User:Jetfire/Big Sky Country

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Paradigm Shift story universe
Works by Jetfire on Shifti

Big Sky country

Author: Jetfire
This story contains adult content.

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

This is the second story for the setting, but the first one isn't ready for posting yet. :)

Week 1

Saturday, September 23

"Born! To Be Wi-i-ild! Born to be Wi-i-ild!" I belted out the song, the border station behind me. I'd overnighted in Medicine Hat after helping untangle a problem with a client there, and now my Vegas Vacation was officially starting. Two days driving, four days in Sin City, and three days to get back home to Edmonton. Late September vacations were perfect; a chance to avoid the summer crowds while still having excellent weather.

The song ended and I grabbed my ice capp cup, slurping up the last of the liquid I'd nursed from Medicine Hat. Fort Parker was just a few minutes ahead, and was a good spot to top off the tank and have a pit stop. As I lowered the cup, I saw an unexpected flash of darkness where I didn't expect it.

"What the hell?" I exclaimed, my eyes flicking from the road to my hand where my nails were darkening, becoming shiny black and growing longer. Doing 100 on an undivided highway meant I didn't dare focus too much on it, even if traffic wasn't too heavy. I gripped the wheel, noting both hands had dark nails now, and hoped I could reach the truck stop in time. In time for what, I wasn't sure exactly, but it felt like a safer spot than being on the side of the road.

I crested a hill and saw the Flying J in the distance, and every vehicle on the road already had their signals on to pull into the parking lot. My nails were shiny black and steadily thickening and growing, extending out from the end of my fingers. The texture of my skin seemed to be changing as well and I began to worry. Everyone knew about Titan's Step, but this didn't seem to match what the centaurs had described when they changed.

I slowed and signaled, following a pickup truck off the highway to the car parking lot. This late in the season, and this time of the morning, traffic wasn't too bad. The overnight truckers had already hit the road so there were only a dozen tractors in their part of the lot. The car parking lot was similarly sparse, maybe a couple dozen cars and trucks. Some people were outside, staring at their hands.

I picked a somewhat isolated spot with no other cars around and slammed the car into park with my palm. I left the engine running and fumbled with my seatbelt to unbuckle it. My fingers felt strange; awkward to use with so much on the end of my finger tips. I swung the car door open wide and hopped out and finally felt some of the anxiety that had been building in me melt away. Considering what happened to the Titans, it didn't seem wise to be in a confined space.

I lifted my hands up and turned them over. My hands seemed to be turning a smokey grey and taking on a pebbly or scaly texture. The back of my fingers and thumbs was thickening, to support the black nails that were growing out. The nails were curling inward and narrowing to sharp points.

"Fuck! I'm NOT becoming one of those damn horses." The man's voice carried across the parking lot, drawing attention to a couple who were parked closer to the building.

The woman waved her hands in front of them, as clawed as my own hands now, though her skin seemed yellower. "Look at these! You ever see one of those horse people with hands like these? Something else is going on."

I shook my head and tuned them out. The Titans' stories had made one thing very clear; once whatever it was that caused this caught you, there was nothing to do but ride it out. The pebbly texture was spreading up over my forearms now, bringing the smokey gray colouring with it. I flexed my fingers and stretched them, trying to decide if they were naturally more spread out than I was used to, or if it was just my imagination. The curved talons threw off my perspective.

Tires squealed as a car stopped hard a few spots away from me. A young man was alone in the car, looking completely terrified. He was fumbling about ineffectively in the cabin as I ran over to help.

"Put it in park!" I shouted, trying to get his attention. "Put it in park! Use your palm!" While shouting, I tried to get a grip on the door handle, only to have my talons scratch against the paint.

The car jerked forward a moment as he let up on the brake pedal for an instant, making me jump back. I banged on the window with the side of my hand and he finally seemed to notice me.

"Put! It! In! Park!" I shouted."Use your palm! Shove the gear shift forward."

He nodded as my words finally sunk in. His hands looked similar to mine, but his skin was golden to my smokey grey. He shoved the gear shift forward, but it stopped in neutral. Before I could suggest what to do, he managed to squeeze the shifter well enough to unlock it, and push it right into park. There was a reassuring clunk as the door locks opened.

"Good, good! You're stopped now, the car's not going anywhere. You're okay, you're safe now. Take your time, and figure out how to release your seatbelt. I'll get your door opened."

Not needing to worry about the car suddenly rolling forward and dragging me by my talons, I could focus enough to hook one of my talons under the handle and pull it open. I tugged, feeling the strain on my nail turned talon, and got my hand free of the handle. The door was now open and the young man could get out, if he could only get his seatbelt off.

"Take it easy, you're safe now. You're off the road and stopped now. Just reach down and push the button. Imagine you're trying to push it with a pen instead of your fingers," I said, trying to reassure the man.

I eyed the belt as he grunted and struggled to free himself, trying to decide if these new fingers were sharp enough to tear it. I had a belt ripper in my emergency kit, but I wasn't sure I had the dexterity to dig it out of my trunk, let alone to hold it well enough to cut the shoulder and lap belts.

There was another click, and the belt retracted. I almost thought the belt had pulled the man out, with how fast he threw himself out of the car and onto the pavement. He laid on his belly, panting hard.

"Good good, just take deep breaths. You're completely safe now," I reassured him. I peeked into the car and saw keys dangling from the ignition; there would be no way I could turn it off with how my hands were.

"What.... what's going on?" the man asked. He'd rolled over and sat up, still panting but the terror seemed to be fading. He had dark talons and yellow scales on his arms and hands, stopping at his elbow.

"A Titan Event I guess. But I don't think we're becoming horses. I hope everyone's managed to get off the roads and out of their cars now."

"I hope so. I saw a few cars pulled over and people out of them. I should've stopped sooner, but I knew the J was just ahead and thought I could make it. But damn, that was terrifying; my entire body felt like it was screaming to 'Stop! Stop! Get Out!'. I've never felt that way before."

He paused and looked at his hands. "I don't know what I was thinking, but I made it. And then I was panicking and I couldn't figure out what to do and my hands weren't working right and I couldn't get out but my mind was screaming to get out.... "

He trailed off again and took a deep breath. "Thanks for the help."

I flexed my changed hands again, stretching my fingers wide. I did a mental assessment and didn't feel like anything else was changing. Or at least not changing yet. I somehow doubted that whatever was causing this would stop with scaly hands. We seemed to be in a pause at the moment, maybe to give people like this man enough time to get to a safe spot.

"I'm Paul by the way," the man introduced himself, holding out his hand.

"Simon, Simon Farell. From the other side of the border," I introduced myself. I hesitated, then held out my hand in a loose fist, the talons too long to make a proper fist or to safely shake hands.

He noticed what I did and made a similar fist and fist-bumped. "Paul Mitchell. I'm a local, from Spiderville."

"Spiderville?" I asked. I didn't recognize the location, though I didn't really know this area of the border; I usually drove the more direct route down to Vegas.

"Fort Parker. Spiderville, Spiderman, Peter Parker.... It's a bad local nickname among my friends."

"I've heard worse," I said with a smile. Paul had dirty blond hair which seemed thinner than when I first saw him, but I wasn't sure. I crouched down and checked myself in the side mirror of his car and realized my own brown hair was definitely thinning out. "Break time is over."

He stood up and looked around, then back at me. "What should we do?"

"The only thing we can do. Wait it out, and hope we don't turn into something too monstrous. The Titans said it didn't hurt but that it was uncomfortable sometimes."

"They got really big. Do you remember what they said happened to their clothes?" Paul asked.

I shrugged, "I think they took theirs off as they went. It's been a few months since I read those stories, probably the same time you did. Never expected it would be relevant to me."

Paul lifted his hands, "But their hands stayed human. We've got a manicurist's worst nightmare. So what will we do?" His hair was all gone now, somehow absorbed back into his scalp.

"Uhm, that might be a problem." I looked at my own taloned hands. "We'll probably be doing some tearing."

I started a quick clothing inspection. We were both wearing pullover shirts made of light breathable fabric that should be easy enough to tear. He had sneakers on that looked loose enough to slip off. I knew my own shoes were easy to slip off, since I usually didn't untie them. We both had pants, but once the button popped they would drop down easily enough. I was about to declare we should be okay, when I realized a problem around both our waists. "Belts. We gotta get these belts off."

We both had leather belts on, and I did not like the thought of what it might do if we grew bigger. Hands went to our waists and we started trying to get them off. It felt like it took an eternity to figure out how to unbuckle the belts. With a lot of careful pushing and hooking with our talons, followed by pinching the belt end between our fingers, we managed to get the belts unbuckled and pulled off. I decided to preemptively hook a talon behind the button of my pants and popped it free. Paul matched my movements and went a step further, going for the collar of his t-shirt and tearing it open.

"Do you remember what they said was next?" Paul asked, wiggling out of his torn shirt. We'd shifted places by now so we were leaning against the hoods of our own cars while monitoring each other.

"No clue. Might've been ears, or pouch or something. But they started with that body colouring. We don't seem to have that issue." I wiggled my toes a bit, my shoes feeling tighter. "Crap, feet already? The parking lot is already cooking," I said while starting to kick off my shoes.

The balls of my feet were swelling, while my ankle and the rest of my foot felt like I was getting muscle cramps. Thankfully I was already leaning against the car, so I could use it for balance. It was a bit harder than I expected, but I managed to step on my socks and tug them off as well.

I discovered my big toes were shrinking significantly, while the other four toes grew larger. The end of my foot was broadening to support the shifting toes. Skin grew over my nails, but I could just see the nails were thickening and growing larger, sharp tips forming as they became more claw-like. Wiggling my toes, I was surprised to feel claws extend out from my toe tips, long enough to reach the ground, but fully out of sight when I relaxed my toes. My skin was beginning to darken and itch, dark hair growing and thickening into a full fur pelt. I spread my arms to brace myself a bit, talons scratching the car paint, and tilted one foot up. Underneath, I could see the skin had thickened to form grey pads, one under each toe and a larger pad at the ball of my foot. My big toe had completely disappeared, and my legs were aching and feeling tighter in my pant legs.

"Shit!" I cursed, throwing modesty to the wind and pushing down my pants. It was awkward to get them over my changed feet, but I managed to get them off without falling over. The fur had covered both feet and was starting up my lower leg. The back half of my foot seemed to have become rounder and muscles tightened up strangely, lifting my heel up so it seemed more like a strange knee than a heel. While I was tugging my pants off, I had a better view of the fur on my lower legs. I had thought it was just black fur, but now I could see there was a hint of a pattern in it, spots formed from fur that was a slightly different shade of black.

I cast a quick look over to Paul to see how he was handling it. He'd similarly kicked off his shoes and was standing on large tiger paws. The skin of his legs had developed a tiger stripe pattern in orange, white and black and the pelt of fur was steadily climbing up his legs. He was trying to take some steps, and having trouble. One taloned hand gripped the open door in a death grip, the other hand was flung wide to try and balance. After the second step, he gave up the attempts and fell back against the side of his car.

"Whoa, that feels strange. I couldn't get my balance," he said once he felt he was safely supported again.

"You might want to let the legs finish baking at least," I said, giving an awkward smile.

Mentally, I was trying to dredge up everything I had heard about the Titans, especially with how they described their changes. One of the first questions reporters usually asked was if the change was scary, or if they were angry during the change. The answer was almost always 'yes, but...', and now I finally understood the 'but' part.

I was scared, absolutely terrified, and more than a bit angry. I could feel the rage and fear in my mind, but it felt like it was all locked away, isolated somehow, unable to pull the biological levers that they normally would pull to make me take action. It was disconcerting to realize that whatever force was manipulating my body physically, could also so completely control my mind. It let me think normally to process what was going on and to keep feeling like myself, but the most dangerous reactions were locked away somehow.

"Griffons," Paul said, interrupting my moment of woolgathering. "I think that might be what we're becoming."

"What? What makes you think that?"

"Look at our hands, those are bird-like, but these feet are cat-like. You look like a panther, and I'm a tiger. Griffons are a mix of bird and cat. Which means you might want to take that shirt off before it's too late; we're going to need to get our backs clear."

I reached for the collar of my shirt and winced as my talons scratched my flesh. I was starting to get used to them on my finger tips, but they made gripping and grabbing things trickier. I managed to find a weak spot and tear it open and tug it off.

We were now in our underwear, underwear that was feeling itchy and a bit strained from the fur growth over our hips. My boxers seemed able to handle whatever growth was going on in there, so I left it be for now. Paul, seemingly much less modest than I, had torn his briefs off, exposing himself to the world. We could see the tiger pattern had continued up over his hips, mostly white over his groin and up his belly, but still having the orange and black pattern on his sides. The orange fur spread over his balls and up his cock a bit, seemingly making his cock a bit bigger, encased in a furry tube that pointed up from his loins.

On both of us, the skin colour change and fur continued working up, over our bellies and up to our chests. We quickly noticed it seemed to stop on our sides. Our butts were covered, but it stopped before going above our hips, staying just at the top of our butt cracks. The fur seemed to stop at the top of our chests, just below our collar bones. The end of the fur growth seemed to trigger another pause in the change.

I took the pause to touch my belly curiously. The trick to touching something seemed to be to keep my fingers extended as far as comfortable. That tended to keep the talons out of the way enough to press my palm against whatever I wanted to touch. A palm I discovered was as sensitive as my old hand, despite the scaly appearance. The fur was soft to the touch, and thick; almost thick enough to hide my hand in, complete with the talons.

I let my hand go lower, and pressed the front of my boxers, confirming what I suspected. My own penis was a bit larger and felt like it was being held facing forward and up by its sheath. I rubbed a little to try and get more comfortable, as even with the roomy boxers, the fur still felt uncomfortable under the underwear.

"Is there something on my butt?" Paul asked. "I'm getting strange feelings there. Pins and needles, like my arm fell asleep and it is waking up." During our lull, he had turned around and was facing his car. Above his furry rump, right around the end of his spine, was a fleshy bump, mostly orange with some white and black striping. Seeing it seemed to trigger a similar sensation at my rear.

"Looks like a bulge of some sort, where a tail might be. Maybe the size of your hand. I don't think we're getting a horse's rump from it."

"That's a small relief. But I'm worried. Waiting for the other shoe to drop is making me a bit anxious."

I wiggled my shoulders, a little, a hint of stiffness building in them. "What do you mean by the other shoe?"

"The Titans, you'd think regular centaurs would be enough, but they got those psychedelic colours, a pouch and a reproductive system they still haven't fully figured out. I don't want to think of what They might do to us, in case it gives them ideas."

I chuckled, understanding his concern, then grimaced. Something seemed to be happening inside my chest; sometimes my breath caught and I couldn't inhale fully. Other times, I felt my back muscles cramp up hard. I tried stretching my arms out and up, trying to ease the strange pressure. Paul was grimacing and swinging his arms as well, seemingly in similar discomfort. A quick glance around the parking lot showed a dozen of us in a similar state of discomfort. The couple that had been shouting earlier seemed to have resigned themselves to their situation; if they were still talking, they were too quiet for everyone to hear.

I winced, getting a throbbing headache, and more concerning, my arms went numb. They dropped to my side, completely limp, not obeying any mental command. My shoulders began to ache and tingle, nerves firing randomly.

Looking over at Paul, I had an idea of what was happening. He seemed to be experiencing the same arm numbness I was, hands draped over the door. The arms clearly were no longer providing any support, so he was sliding sideways to be able to lean on the car body and not risk closing the door on his limp limbs.

As he did his awkward slide, I could tell there was something off about his back. It looked like a slight broadening just below his shoulders was happening and muscles were somehow rearranging in his upper back to do whatever was going to happen.

He had just gotten in a new position, leaning against the doorframe when the purpose of our back work was revealed. A new pair of arms began to grow out, hanging just as limply as our existing arms. This pair started just below our shoulders and very slightly back. A quick glance down at my own sides showed a similar pair of limbs, covered in smokey grey skin, were sprouting.

They grew steadily as we watched. The effect that was numbing our arms was also in effect on these new limbs, so we could do nothing as they hung from our backs. All we could feel was the growing weight and an occasional twitch from growing muscles and nerves.

It was quickly apparent that the limbs had two joints, an elbow and a more handlike part at the far end. The hand part had what seemed to be a large finger at the far end. Each beat of my heart seemed to make them grow longer. They began to drag on the ground, pushed with the growth, though I still couldn't feel anything from them.

After what felt like an eternity, the growth slowed to a stop and I began to get the pins and needles feeling again as it started to 'wake up'. I couldn't figure out how it would work. The upper arm went from my new shoulder to about hip level, where it had an elbow leading to the lower arm. Stretched out as it was, I couldn't easily judge the length but it looked about twice as long as the upper arm section. The hand section was shorter, maybe half the size of the upper arm ultimately. I tried to twist and wiggle a bit, but all I could tell was how heavy they were as dead weight on my back. All told I guessed each limb was maybe eight or ten feet long in total; longer than we were tall for certain. I had no idea how we would keep them from getting in the way.

"Damn, these are quite the chicken wings," Paul said, before wincing. His regular arms twitched, and then the new wings twitched. I could see the confusion on his face before his head turned away to let him look down at his limbs.

The tingling increased significantly, coming from all four limbs now as they began to wake up. I began to get tactile feedback from them, feeling the warm rough asphalt of the parking lot, the metal panel of the car and the thick dark fur of my legs, but I had a hard time telling which limb was feeling what.

The ache in my head increased, and the limbs began to twitch, spasming from random nerve firing. The second limbs bounced on the ground a bit as I struggled to sort out what controlled what. I gritted my teeth, trying to focus through the strange sensations. I stared at my left hand and willed my fingers to close. My right wing twitched instead, bouncing off the ground as the hand section twitched. I cursed and tried to will all the limbs to relax instead, and tried again, and again, and again. Finally, something seemed to click in my mind, and my hand closed as I willed it. I let out a happy yelp, and looked to my other hand, willing it to move.

Once I had my breakthrough, the rest came quickly. I could move my regular arms like I used to. As for my new arms, those were strange. The muscles ached at first, not used to moving, but they responded to my mental commands. I could lift them up and move them around. They had a range of movement similar to my regular arms, but bigger. I could lift them up over my head, and swing them back and surprisingly far forward, as long as my natural arms weren't in the way. The elbow just had the expected up-down range of motion, while the wrist at the far end had some rotational flexibility as well as the expected up-down motion, and some fingerlike movement at the very end.

"Yeah, these are a pain," Paul said. "What the hell are we supposed to do with these?" His wings were lifted so they extended horizontally out from him, longer than his car.

"I'm not sure, but keep moving them around and maybe something will feel right," I suggested.

With more practice, we finally found a position that felt somewhat natural. I let the wing drop down vertically, then lifted the lower part of the limb up as far as it could, and let the hand part just go where it wanted. For our regular arms, that wasn't really comfortable, but our wings had no problem with it. The biggest challenge was deciding how to position them when folded that way. The wings had a wide range of motion, so we could either pull them all the way back so they were side by side, giving us a narrow profile. Or we could swing them forward, even with our sides, giving us a wider profile. I settled on a midway point, the wings themselves forming a right angle. It felt surprisingly comfortable.

"So was this the other shoe?" I asked once I got my wings settled in place. I felt like my sense of balance was improving, but it was still really off kilter; I didn't feel I could safely walk anywhere without support.

Paul shook his head, "No, I expected this once I figured we were becoming griffons. Griffs have wings after all, so we'd need them too. You know, if these actually work it might be worth it. Imagine, being able to fly in these skies, no planes, no choppers, no balloons, just these." He flicked his bare wings a bit, then sighed sadly. "But it's probably a vain hope. Aerodynamics and physics are all wrong for flight.

"Something unknown is morphing our bodies as we speak, with only a little bit of pain and a lot of inconvenience, and you think letting us fly will be impossible?"

Paul shrugged his regular arms, though the movement also made his wings bounce a little. "The Titans don't seem to have anything impossible going on after they changed, so who knows."

We fell silent, feeling our lips go numb. I licked my lips and had a strange sensation of feeling my teeth shrink back into my gums. My skull felt like it was in a vise, being squeezed, even as my lower and upper jaws pushed outward. On Paul, his cheeks and lips stretched out with the growth, his upper jaw swelling and somehow pulling his nose out with it. The stretching skin took on a yellow colour, similar to his hands and began to harden and develop a shine. I turned away, finding it too strange to watch for too long, even as I could tell my own face was stretching out similarly.

The Titans had said their own head reshaping had been awkward but not too disconcerting. But they had only grown muzzles; they still had teeth and cheeks and all the normal face parts. We were growing beaks and that seemed to be a harder change for this force to impose on us. I began to fear for what that implied, wondering how we could eat, how we could talk.

I closed my eyes and waited, trying not to move anything while my head was made over. I doubted whatever was doing this cared if I held still or if I was trying to sing an aria as it worked, but it gave me a bit of peace of mind to think that my efforts might make this easier to handle.

The pressure and aching gradually faded from my head. I found myself breathing through my nose and it didn't seem different, despite how I remembered Paul's head reshaping. I could still smell the scents of the parking lot, burning gas, hot asphalt and similar, but I couldn't really wiggle my nose, there were no muscles to do the wiggling any more..

I moved my tongue, and could tell it was different. Most disconcerting was the lack of teeth. I could feel a firm edge, but it was smooth, without the familiar feel of molars and canines and incisors. I opened my mouth and my tongue found the edge opened into a gap. I mentally realized that the edge was where my beak halves met, some strange combo of my lips and gums, or whatever it was that bird beaks had. I wiggled my tongue a bit, testing how far I could extend it and move it around. It felt flexible, but it didn't go far beyond the edges of my beak.

My Beak.

The thought gave me a moment of pause. After everything that was happening, this is the thing that caught me. Not the fur, not the talons, hell not even the wings. This was the first major change that took something I knew and was familiar with, and made it into something completely foreign.

I took a few deep breaths to try and settle myself. What was done was done, and we could only go forward. At least breathing through my mouth- my beak felt normal.

I shifted my mental focus to the sounds around me. They seemed a bit louder than I remembered, but more distinctive. I could easily count how many engines were idling around us and roughly where each one was. When I focused on a particular sound, I could feel muscles twitching on my skull and the noise usually became easier to focus on. A few meters away, I could hear someone breathing and grunting.

I opened my eyes, and everything was blurry. I felt like I could see more, but I couldn't see anything at the same time. I 'blinked' and my vision partly cleared up, but it was a strange sensation, like my eyelids had moved differently than I was used to. I knew where Paul was standing and turned my head the other way, not sure I wanted to look just yet. Instead, I looked across the lot to the transport parking and focused on a SWIFT truck. I reflexively did the strange blink a few times, and the transport came into focus, sharper than I'd expected. I could easily read the licensing information on the cab, though my peripheral vision was completely out of focus.

As I looked around a bit more, careful not to look anywhere I knew others were, I realized the colours felt off. The reds and yellows seemed normal enough, but the blues and purples seemed different, like there were more of them in, including some in places I didn't remember them before.

Paul grunted again, and I finally looked at him. At first he was a fuzzy blur, but a few more blinks and he snapped into focus. At this distance, my visual 'zoom' mode didn't seem to need to work as hard, as my peripheral vision felt more in focus, more like how I used to see.

It took my mind a few moments to piece together what I was seeing. He had what seemed like a large yellow beak extending from his face maybe half a foot or so. The upper part was bulkier, having a hook that went over the end of his bottom jaw, and two dark holes on the side close to his face. His eyes seemed a bit lower and wider spaced, more in line with the holes in his upper beak. The eyes themselves were brownish gold, with a dark pupil and no sign of any whites. As I was taking it in, I saw movement flick across the eyes, a strange blink that went from the back to front.

I half expected his ears to be gone, but instead found them bigger than ever. They had shifted a bit, so they stood higher than the top of his head, and they were more triangular and furry. The inside of the ears was furred in white, while the backs were mostly black with a touch of orange and a large white spot on each ear.

The position of his head seemed a bit different. His head's natural position seemed to be pointed up a little. To look at me, he had his head tilted down. I could feel I was forcing my own head down to look that way as well. It wasn't uncomfortable, but it wasn't my resting state.

Something screeched in the distance and I saw his ears twitch, turning towards the noise. I felt my own ears twitch as well, and my mind tried to figure out where it came from. My gut feeling was that it was from the fields behind the truck stop, and NOT from anyone who might have changed among us.

Paul opened his beak a bit and grunted and clicked, somehow managing to look frustrated. I started to try and ask what was wrong and the words stuck in my throat; I had no idea how to speak now! This was almost the tipping point for me, a thing that almost broke through whatever calming effect we were under. I began to try to grunt, to say the alphabet, and try other simple sounds I could think of. Paul's ears turned towards me, and he tilted his head quizzically, then started doing the same.

With a bit of practice, I was surprised at just how many of the sounds and letters I could say clearly. My fear of losing my voice started to fade away. I quickly realized we basically had to be ventriloquists; we had a tongue and vocal chords, but we couldn't move our 'lips' any more to make some sounds. I also realized I had no freaking clue how ventriloquists did what they did, despite seeing Terry Fator's show in Vegas twice.

"Can ew hear e?" Paul asked.His voice seemed to have gained about half an octave or so on top of everything else.

"I can. Can ew hear e?" I replied. The softer sounds were hard to get out, but most of the words were passible; we just needed practice. The relief that we could still speak somewhat clearly was huge; even with how changed we were, I could see some of the tension come out of his body, and mine.

"Naked chickehs" Paul said, and started to grunt a bit, a sound I quickly realize was probably laughter. He wiggled his nacked wing arms to help better get across his point. I wiggled my own bare wings, and opened my beak, letting out a forced 'Ah-Ah-Ah'. He nodded and bent down to look in the mirror of his car, checking out his new head.

I followed his lead and looked in the mirror at the strange head that replaced my old one. Our heads were very similar, with colouration being the main difference. My beak was smokey grey, and the hook at the end was black. My skin was a lighter shade of gray, matching the rest of my unfurred body. Our eyes were identical, but my ears were more panther-like, dark black and furry like the rest of my furred parts.

"Look! Look!" Paul called out.

He had spread his wings and his arms, looking eagerly at them over his shoulder. It looked like he was covered in goosebumps. I checked my own bare skin and saw it covered in similar bumps, but I wasn't shivering like I normally would with so much bumpiness.

Fine hair began to grow from the bumps, but it was different from the fur that covered much of us already. In most areas, the hair split quickly, taking on a fuzzy feathery look. The down feathers were white on both of us, covering up the remaining tiger stripe pattern on Paul.

"I think it al-os... al-os... done soon," I said, giving up on trying to make an 'm' sound.

Paul didn't speak, but he leaned forward and picked up one of his sneakers and dropped it. I understood the message.

The feathering thickened quickly, and soon we noticed bigger feathers growing, with stiffer shafts and more distinctive colouring. Waxy tubes grew out en masse, until the ends broke open, showing the more distinctive feather shapes. The feathers covered our heads, shoulders, backs, and our upper arms, basically everything that wasn't already furry. Paul's look was very familiar, the white feathers on his head and neck combined with the orange beak, and the darker feathers on his shoulders showed off the bald eagle inspiration of his looks.

As for me, my colouration was best described as 'fiery'. It was a nice mix of reds, oranges and yellows. I wasn't familiar with bird types, but I was pretty sure there were no hawks or eagles or anything that looked like what was growing on me. The only red bird I could think of off hand was a cardinal, and I had too much orange to be inspired by that bird's plumage. All in all, I had no idea what it meant, but I was thankful we didn't seem to be going as extreme with our plumage as the Titans had with their pelts.

"Phoenix. You look like a fire bird," Paul said, somewhat awed.

I had to agree with his assessment. I didn't think the phoenix was a real bird, but that didn't seem to limit whatever was doing this to us. It seemed strange to mix two mythical creatures in one, but no one knew what the rules were.

I felt my wings growing heavier, and spread them wide to take a look. Large feathers grew out from the wing. Most distinctive were the flight feathers, long stiff feathers that grew from our wings, reaching down to our hips at their longest. My own feathers were shades of red and orange like the rest of my feathers, while Paul continued with the brown feathering of the bald eagle. Once it seemed they had stopped growing, I shook my wings and felt the feathers settle together. With my wings spread, they looked like flames coming off my arms. I started wiggling the various parts of my wings and noticed how the feathers moved. If we were truly meant to fly, I hoped we would get an instinct download, because I had no clue how they might work.

Thinking of flying, I pulled my wings forward quickly. The feathers caught the air in ways I didn't expect, and pushed me back hard against the car. It raised a cloud of dust that blew towards Paul.

"Hey!" he shouted, then realized how I'd fallen. "You okay?"

"Just ny pride," I grunted back, straightening up with the help of the car. "Didn't expect that much."

Not wanting to risk a second push, I willed my wings back to their resting state. The feathers themselves had no feeling in them, but as they rubbed together, I could feel it in the flesh of my wing. Thankfully they seemed to stack together naturally without me needing to mentally figure it out.

I had forgotten about the fist sized bulge above my butt, but my new body hadn't. The spot above my butt itched as the stiff feathers grew out, similar to the flight feathers on my wing. When I stood straight, they brushed the ground, but I quickly realized that if I leaned forward very slightly, they wouldn't drag, and for the first time since this started, my balance finally felt stable. The twitchy feeling in that bump finally made sense, as I discovered I could spread the feathers or pull them into a tighter bundle with ease.

I remembered another tip that the Titans had said about their own changes, Just do it. Don't over think what you are doing, especially the simple stuff. For the first time since I'd helped Paul, I took a step away from my car.

A couple of steps, and I was out of reach of the car. I could feel the texture of the asphalt under my feet. My centre of mass was unsteady, and I almost backed up to the car again, but I felt my wings and tail move and my stance shifted and my balance stabilized. Leaning forward as I was made the resting position of my head feel better; I was looking forward without having to force my head down.

"'ravo!" Paul called, to me, clapping awkwardly. While I was watching, I saw him follow my lead and leave his safe stand.

We ended up beak to beak, separated by a few metres, and laughing happily at our success. It felt like things were reaching an end and the real work could start soon. I also realized that I still had my boxers on, and with everything going on, they were not fitting right.

Feeling the modesty wasn't really needed, I tried to get them off. Talons, I discovered, were sharp piercers, but not as good as fabric cutters. With a bit of awkward tugging and a few stabs through the fabric and especially through the elastic waistband, I managed to tear them off. I had felt it before, but seeing my penis in the furry sheath was a bit of a surprise. I ignored it and balled up my boxers and tossed them at my car.

"And now, the rest of our lives," I proclaimed. Speaking was getting easier with practice as we got used to our new mouths.

As if waiting for such a queue, I felt another tingle start in my body. This time it was centred on my chest. When the fur had grown out, my nipples had darkened and gotten lost in the fuzz. But now they were perking up. By tilting my head I could see them harden and the areola around them getting larger. The flesh under them began to swell steadily.They weren't huge, but to me they seemed that way; my breasts were big enough to be noticeable, but not so big to be unmanageable.

"Told you so," Paul said. He had breasts now, covered in white fur. He put one arm across his chest and hefted his breasts with the back of his forearm. "C cup maybe? I think my girlfriend is about this big. They're firmer than hers though, not that much bounce, probably a flight adaptation."

I shook my head and looked away. While Paul was self checking, I could feel more things happening. My belly gurgled and it felt like something was going on inside. I leaned forward a bit more to get a better view down below, and could see my scrotum tightening up; one ball had already been pulled inward and the second disappeared as I watched. Muscles in my hips and loins quivered as they grew and shifted, connecting to new organs. A slit formed in my scrotum as it reshaped itself, forming into the labia for my new woman's hole, the top of the slit stopping an inch or so away from the base of my sheath; a sheath that was unchanged from this part as far as I could tell.

I couldn't believe what I was seeing; couldn't believe that was part of me. I reached down and used the back of a talon to carefully rub the new opening. It sent a quiver of pleasure up my spine that I couldn't ignore. I jerked my hand away, but it was too late. The baser animal part of my mind seemed to have been woken up by the touch and it wanted more. Or maybe it was the flood of hormones from these last changes that was setting me off. In either case, to my chagrin, I discovered I was at half mast and climbing in one sense, and also feeling moist in an area I'd never had before.

I looked down again, and realized my penis had changed more than I had expected. It still seemed to be a similar size as before, but it seemed a bit pointier, and it was covered in white backward facing barbs. I looked away as I realized what it meant and not wanting to fully consider the implications, especially with the opening further below it.

The animal part of my mind screamed for attention, wanting me to touch something to satisfy it. And unlike my terror over this forced change, whatever was behind this seemed to have no reason to contain those desires.I resisted the desire; part of me not wanting to fully acknowledge what was down there, and the bigger part of me being scared of what might happen if I did touch down there. I knew how sharp my talons were, and I did not want to stab myself while masturbating.

Instead I turned away from Paul and forced myself to look away. I focused on a highway sign in the distance. It was fuzzy at first, but got clearer after a couple of blinks. The words became as clear as if I was standing right in front of it. Canada Customs 5 miles.

"And that was the other shoe. You feeling okay?" Paul asked.

"Yeah, I think so. All things considered. Just strange hormones and feelings," I replied, staying focused on the sign as a way to anchor my mind as far from my body as possible. The animal still raged for attention, but seemed to be tiring.

"Tell me about it. Well, I guess we shouldn't have too much difficulty in figuring out how all this works, if we want to."

I turned back and looked at the fuzzy blob that was Paul until he came back into focus. "IF we want to? That's a mighty big If. Did you look down there? Did you SEE what's on there?"

Paul shrugged, "I did. I suspected it might happen. I doubt it is as scary as it seems, but we'll probably need extra strong condoms. I admit, I'm intrigued by what Angie and I will discover."

"Angie... your girlfriend?"

"Yeah, she's in town. So she should have changed as well. I wonder what she looks like?"

We fell silent for a moment. I mentally wrestled the animal back into a corner, and verified that everything down below was tucked away where it belonged. I sighed, partly in relief, but also partly in frustration, realizing that things were just starting.

"At least you have a home here," I said. "I was just driving through. I'm not even American."

Paul winced and took a step closer to me, and paused, not sure what he was about to do. "I'm sorry, I didn't think of that."

"Yeah, no one really thinks of that. There are a few hundred foreign Titans from last March, and I'm pretty sure they're still stuck in diplomatic limbo. Now we have how many more are affected?"

"Well, the border's right there. I think Canada will be involved whether she wants to be or not. You should have lots of company."

"Yeah, we'll figure out something." With nothing else to do, I gathered up my clothes and tossed them into my car.

The car itself was still idling, the satellite radio playing music as if nothing had happened.The hood and the front panels looked like they had been attacked by a wild animal, the paint scratched deeply, and a lot of fresh dents in the metal.

The clock on the dashboard said 4:48. Seven hours to change thousands of people into these strange griffons. I found it hard to believe. I leaned into the cabin and tapped the Start/Stop button with my talon to kill the engine. There was no way I was going to be moving it any time soon.

"So I guess you'll be heading back into town?" I asked, straightening up again.

"Eventually. I think I want to see what they're planning to do first, and this is as good a place as any. Besides, it's a long walk, and I'm certainly not going to be driving with these." He waved his wings. "Maybe I'll be able to hitch a ride with the military or whoever they send in."

"It's a better plan than I have." I looked back into the cabin of my car, trying to decide what I should keep on me and how I could keep it on me. "Thanks for going through this with me."

"No, thank YOU for helping me out at the start. I was honestly terrified; I don't want to imagine what it would have been like if I'd been stuck in the car."

The speakers around the truck stop crackled to life, making our ears press back against the noise. It reminded me we really weren't alone. I saw more feathered heads pop up from among the cars.

"Attention everyone in the sound of my voice. It looks like this Change is complete. If you want to, please gather in the restaurant for an update on what is known so far. Thank you."

"Did she sound a little strange to you?" Paul asked. "Whoever that was, she certainly recovered quickly."

"Yeah she did, but who knows what's normal any more. Still, we should probably go inside, see what's up."

Around us, more griffons were moving around. Mostly all I could see was feathery backs and wings as they started towards the building. Many seemed to have plumage patterns like hawks and eagles. But I wasn't the only bright one. I saw one that seemed to have Blue Jay markings, and another that seemed more parrot-like in iridescent greens. The shapes of our heads seemed pretty consistent, with the hooked eagle beak, but the jay had a crest of feathers that stood up. I checked myself in the mirror, but my head seemed to be smooth in comparison. I tried to wiggle my forehead, and nothing seemed to stand up. .

Paul went over to his car and leaned in. A few moments later, he let out a happy screech, and the idling engine stopped. When he popped up again, he triumphantly swung the keys on his talon.

I looked back in my own car, and tried to figure out what I needed. I didn't want to leave it unlocked, so I had to keep the key. I wasn't sure if I could use my phone, but I wanted it as well, and I wanted my wallet and passport, just in case. The holy quaternity of travellers. The problem was, I had no pocket to carry it all in. Furthermore, while two of the items were in easy reach in the console, the other two were tangled in the pockets of my pants. I grabbed my pants and tackled that problem first.

I was beginning to get used to using talons. They were like really long, really strong, really sharp fingernails. Sometimes I used them like I was playing a claw game, picking things up with the tips. Other times, I knew I needed my fingertips and found they got in the way unless I found just the right angle. The Titan advice of 'not overthinking it' was still helpful.

I tossed the items into an insulated bag I usually used as a lunch bag, zipped it up and hung it over my forearm. I locked the car up and joined Paul who was waiting for me.

"Got a purse already?" he asked jokingly.

I meant to give him a light shoulder punch for the comment, but instead I felt my wing flick out and thump him instead. Not expecting it, he stumbled forward, still laughing.

"Sorry! I'm so sorry! I didn't mean it that way. And it's not a purse!" I apologized.

"No harm, no foul," Paul said. "We gotta do what we gotta do." Having a beak meant we no longer had mouths and lips to express with, but his body language seemed to read that he was smirking.

We were among the last to reach the building. The automatic doors opened, and a wave of air conditioned air washed over us. My wings twitched, reacting to the air change, but despite our nudity, it didn't feel bad. The tiled floor did feel nicer on our feet than the asphalt and concrete did.

This truckstop had an older design that wasn't often seen any more. The central part of the building was the retail side, filled with snacks, travel supplies and random knick knacks. To the right was a Subway restaurant, and a short hall that led to the Trucker's lounge and showers. To the left was the entrance to the main restaurant, a classic truck stop diner that sold hot meals at trucker sizes. Our ears twitched towards the restaurant, picking up a cacophony of voices within.

"Go right on in gals," a woman called out from the cash registers. She was an actual human woman, with a belly bulge that explained how she was still human. "You two are the last I can see on the parking lot cameras, so we'll start in a minute."

"Thanks Judy," Paul said, waving to her. He led us to the restaurant.

"Not gals," I mumbled, mostly to myself.

"Aren't we? We certainly look like we're more gal than guy now after all."

I had no response.

The tables and chairs had been pushed to the walls to make room. The restaurant itself could seat a couple of hundred, and it was about three quarters filled with griffons. One or two held babies, actual human babies, but there were no other regular people in the room.

For the first time we had a clearer view of the feline parts of other griffons. The patterns ran the gamut of cat types, big and small. Jaguar spots, tiger stripes, lion and cougar solids and even the mottled colours of house cats. I spotted two tortoise shell patterned griffons in the crowd.

Some turned our way as we entered and waved at us. "Hey Uncle Sam!" someone shouted from the crowd, triggering some laughter from those who put the pieces together. Paul waved back, laughing.

Plastic tumblers filled with ice water were set up on the counter, and most people held one. I claimed a cup of my own and tried to figure out how to drink.

"You could tilt your head back a bit and pour it into your beak, but that's an advanced skill and might make you choke. I'd suggest lapping up the water for now." The speaker had dark brown feathers, with some white splashes over her body. Her lower half was a tawny colour, like a lion or cougar. Her most distinctive trait was her tail, having more of a red or ochre colouring much lighter than the rest of her feathers.

"Thanks," I said, raising the glass in a quick toast. A quick glance at some of the other drinkers confirmed that I probably wasn't being pranked. I saw other griffons dip their beak into their cups, then tilt their head back. I held the glass to the end of my beak and tried to lap up the liquid. It took a few attempts, but I managed to get some water into my beak, where it sat for a moment, before I remembered to tilt my head back. The liquid rolled back into my throat and I could swallow.

"That is going to take some getting used to," I proclaimed after a few more head tilts. I was still quite thirsty, but the edge was off now.

"It is. I'm sure we'll get used to it or figure out a better way eventually. Not as if we have a choice right?"

"You got that right," I said, raising my glass in a mock toast, before taking another drink. I managed to snag a chunk of ice and held it in my beak a moment, using my tongue to move it around. The sensation was fairly familiar, like holding an ice cube in my mouth, only it didn't click against teeth and the overall shape of my mouth was different, a bit longer than I was used to. The chilling effect the ice had on my tongue and the roof of my mouth was the same.

"Your feathers are striking, and such a contrast to your fur. It's beautiful," the red tailed griffon continued after I paused in my drinking.

I used my tongue to press the rotten ice cube against the roof of my mouth and felt it break apart. I swallowed the melting chunks and looked back at my new companion. "Thanks, your tail is quite striking as well. I'm Simon by the way."

She twitched in reaction to my name, and her body language changed subtly. She hesitated then held up her hand for a fist bump. "Hi Simon, I'm Barry."

I was glad I wasn't drinking, or I might have done a spit take. Barry's reaction made sense, and my mind spun in circles for a moment, throwing out most of my books on social interactions. All the griffons had breasts, and breasts equaled women. But at the same time, many of us, probably over half of us, were guys. Or at least we were guys when we woke up this morning. I weakly returned the fist bump, and was saved as Judy came into the restaurant.

Seeing an adult human among the griffons helped restore my sense of scale. Even the smallest pony sized Titans tended to be literally heads and shoulders over most humans. Griffons, on the other claw, were still basically human sized, aside from all the extra kibble on our backs. If anything, we were slightly shorter, but that was probably due to the slight lean forward we all did for our tails.

Judy walked behind the service counter and waited a moment for the room to quiet down. A half dozen griffons moved up to stand at the counter facing out. One had a chef's apron around her neck and over her front, the rest were naked but it was clear they were employees.

"Hi everyone. It's good to see you taking this so well. What a way to find out you're pregnant, right?" She smiled and waited for a beat. There were a few nervous giggles before she went on.

"That was a joke. I'm five months along with my second, so I was well aware of my condition. We did want three, but that will probably be tricky now." She paused a flash of loss going across her face before she recovered and went on.

"For those that don't know me, which is probably most of you, I'm Judy Lewiston, co-owner of this truckstop. And I just want to say, for the next few days, mi casa es su casa. Anything you need, feel free to take, within reason, and don't worry about paying.

"Now, while you all were getting your feathers on, I've tried to keep busy, to find out what I can to help you. I'll go over what I know in a moment, but first, I want to lay down some ground rules for anyone who is staying here.

"First, no fighting. You all look like a nice bunch so I doubt that will be a problem, but that's the big rule.

"Second, no happy fun time in the building, and preferably not on the lot. We've all read the stories about the Titans and how they were after the change, so the feelings are understandable, especially since you have something you never had before. But we have children present. So whether you want to do some self exploring, you want to try with a partner, or start a full Titan Orgy, just take it outside. Not the bathroom, not the Trucker's lounge, not the backroom, but OUTSIDE."

There was some nervous giggling in the crowd and some looked away, ears pressing back in a sign of embarrassment.

"Third, all vehicles must be turned off. A lot of you left your cars idling in the parking lot; as soon as we're done here, we'll be going out to turn off your cars. If you can't figure out how to turn them off, I can still get in there and pull the key out for you.

"And if anyone has any pets, please let us know and we'll take care of them or help you take care of them. Please see me immediately and we'll make sure they get walked, fed and watered.

"Truckers, see Alex here afterwards, and we'll go through your specific needs and make sure you're taken care of." She pointed to a brown feathered jaguar spotted griffon in front of the counter, who waved to the crowd. "Alex is my husband, and the other owner of this place. But don't let appearances deceive you, I'm the one with the claws in this relationship."

Alex bobbed his head in agreement while laughter rippled across the room.

Judy smiled and continued on. "I just mentioned kids, and you might wonder what I mean, after all there are only a couple of babies in here. Well we have another dozen kids ranging from toddlers to rather annoyed preteens. They're in the Trucker's Lounge, under adult supervision. We felt it was best to keep them separated for now.

"And finally, you know those big things you now have on your back? Keep them folded up. That means the Flying J is officially a No Fly Zone. You just got those things, no one knows how they work, and ambulance service is non-existent. So I don't want anyone to think they figured it out, and end up with a broken leg, arm, wing or neck. You'll have plenty of time to see what those do later."

That caused another real laughter reaction. Looking around the room, most people seemed to understand the reasoning, but a few looked annoyed, hinting at a rebellious streak.

She paused for a sip of water and to flip the pages of her notepad. "Now, the news you really want to know. What the hell happened. And as you can expect, no one has a clue. But this is what is known so far.

"About 10 this morning, a Change Event was triggered, cause unknown. They're still figuring out the limits, but it seems to be a hundred kilometer circle, centred on the tripoint, where Montana, Alberta and Saskatchewan meet. Fort Parker is the biggest community in range, but there are some smaller towns across the border that were also in range. Like with the Titans, they figure tens of thousands of people were affected."

"Once the changes started, and I realized I wasn't changing, I started calling anyone and everyone I could think of and eventually they hooked me up with the task force down at Titan's Step, and it was like I had kicked over a hornet's nest.

"Anyway, long story short, they're scrambling to get up here as fast as they can, and the Canucks are doing whatever they're going to do. In the meantime, they wanted me to spread the word.

"Captain Perry wants me to reassure all of you that they have learned lessons from the Titan change. They are NOT going to cut us off or anything like that. So you don't have to worry about the internet going down.

"They also are NOT going to break up families, mixed families can stay together.

"But they ARE going to have a quarantine, probably for about a week, just to give everyone a chance to get used to what you are now, and to figure out what your needs are now.So, everyone should make plans to be here for at least a week. It doesn't have to be HERE here, but you won't be able to leave the Change zone."

Judy glanced down at her notes. "I think that's about it. Since this is a truckstop, I assume most of you are travellers, without connections to Fort Parker or the area, which does leave you in a bind. If you can find a hotel room or other accommodations, please do so. But if you want to stay here, that's fine. We'll set up a sleeping area in the restaurant here. Lights out from 11 to 8, otherwise, well it's a 24/7 truckstop after all; come and go as you please."

She looked at the workers around her. "Is there anything else worth mentioning?"

The griffon with the apron nodded. "The kitchen is closed for tonight, but I'll try to prepare for breakfast in the morning." She tapped her beak. "Eating is going to be tricky, but I'm sure we'll figure it out. The big unknown is what we can eat, and that will have to be by trial and error. So if you do snack, only nibble, and if it makes you feel queasy, stop. We should have a baseline of safe foods soon enough.

Her husband, Alex, waved for attention once the cook was done. "I'm going to set up some TVs in the store tuned to the news so we'll hopefully get updates as they are found. We'll clear a space and move some tables out, make a griffon lounge of sorts so the kids can keep their space.

"As for the WiFi, we know the public wifi sucks, but it works. The trucker network is better, so some of you will want to use that. I'll see what I can do to open it up for the rest of you, but it won't be for a bit; we have a lot of other things to do."

"Thank you Alex. I think that's enough for now. We'll figure out the rest as we go. If you want to help, please do, otherwise, do what you want. And remember, truckers please go with Alex to your lot and we'll cover your needs. Even if you don't think you need anything, please go so we know who has which truck.

"Anyone else, if your car is idling in the lot, or you have a pet that needs tending to, or you just need a pair of normal hands to get some things, please come with me."

A dozen people followed Alex out a side exit of the restaurant. Another ten joined Judy on the way back outside. I looked around, but Barry had disappeared into the crowd. I felt a little disappointed, since she had seemed friendly enough. I mentally slapped myself, he had seemed friendly enough.

I spotted Paul talking to another couple. They were laughing and seemed to know each other, so I left him alone. The talk of the local wifi reminded me of some things I should probably be doing.

I looked around, trying to find an isolated corner, but every spot was occupied. So I tugged one of the tables out and dumped my cooler bag on it. Turning the screen on, I discovered what a modern "blowing up the inbox" situation looked like in real life. There were hundreds of alerts on the lock screen, starting with a few dozen Emergency Broadcast System alerts and updates. Facebook was the loudest app screaming for attention. It didn't even bother showing me individual messages, just that I had almost a thousand alerts and counting. As I watched, the phone vibrated and the count jumped by eight. Google, Teams, Discord all told me I had hundreds of alerts, emails, mentions, or whatever it was they used to try and get my attention. Even Steam had a few hundred and I hadn't used that on my phone in years. And of course there were hundreds of missed actual calls, almost a thousand text messages, and an innocent looking "You have new voicemail" message that hid how big of a rabbit hole it would take me down. The number of missed calls was a bit of a surprise; since I was travelling in the States, I'd set the phone to only accept whitelisted numbers. All the missed calls would be people on my white list, family, close friends and the office. They probably had more news about what was going on than I did.

"Okay, first things first, getting in," I mumbled, looking at the device on the table. I lightly tapped the screen with a talon tip, and as I expected, it didn't react. I tried with my actual fingers, and found those did work, if very awkwardly.

"Gonna need a stylus," I continued to talk to myself. I knew I had a half dozen styluses floating around in my car and my bags; Using touch screens outside in winter pretty much made them mandatory. I didn't fancy the thought of trying to dig them out, or asking Judy for help. Not when the store probably had a bucket of them somewhere.

I put everything back in my bag and went to the store area. There were maybe a dozen of us in there now, most sampling snacks and trying to figure out their beaks worked in general.

The store had a section with cellphone accessories, including a couple of types of styluses. I picked out a couple of normal pen types, and a couple of extendible ones so I could experiment. I also grabbed a couple of selfie sticks and added them to my bag.

"What's the verdict guys?" I asked, heading over to a trio in the snack aisle. They had cleared one shelf and were using it to keep a variety of opened snacks that they'd tried.

"Chips are great," one said. "Break them up on the top of your mouth, it makes it easier to swallow and you get more of the taste."

"Chocolate is good too, just use small pieces," a second said.

The third was busy fighting with a piece of jerky. She managed to tear a chunk off the dried meatstick and looked pensive. She nodded, "It's good. Tasty too, but a bit tough. Beak seems to handle it fine."

"Great, thanks for the tips." I snagged a bag of plain chips and a few pieces of jerky and tossed them in my bag as well. I fetched a bottle of water and a bottle of juice, and headed for the door. Walking past the empty cashier stand, I felt a brief stab of guilt about not paying, even if it was allowed.

The doors opened, letting me out into the warm late summer air. The sun was getting low, but I figured I had about an hour or so of light left. I spread my wings wide as I walked back to the parking lot, intending to set up around my car to be around something familiar. It felt really nice to spread them out and feel the wind rustle the feathers.

"No flying!" someone shouted.

I waved an acknowledgement. "I know!" I shouted back. "Just wanted to give them a good stretch."

My car was as I'd left it, but it had only been an hour or so inside. I touched the scratches I'd made while changing and shook my head. "Thanks for the help," I said, beginning to realize I wouldn't be able to use it much any more. I punted that ahead as a problem for Future Simon and unpacked my stuff. The stylus wasn't too hard to hold, and it worked to unlock the phone. I let it chug through all the alerts while I tried to set up the selfie stick. I wanted it pinned on the car somehow and eventually jammed it in the window.

"Right, who to call first?" I asked, tapping a talon on the hood. Family was at the top of the list, but I wasn't sure I was ready to call mom. So my choice was obvious. Before I got cold paws, I tapped the contact, turning off the camera at the same time.

"Simon? Is that you? Just a minute," my sister answered the call. The video kicked in a moment later, showing her face. The camera twisted upwards, and I heard her speak to someone. "Sorry, I've gotta take this. It's my brother. He's out west."

The view jumped a bit as she started running, the shelves of the Canadian Tire store she managed blurring behind her. "Simon? Is it you?" she finally asked, holding the phone back up to her face. I was a little surprised at how well the cell network was holding up.

"Hey Bev, it's me," I said.

"Oh my god! Where are you? Are you okay? What happened?" the questions poured out in a flood.

"I think I'm okay. I'm outside of Fort Parker, on the wrong side of the border. And I have no fuckin clue what happened. But I'm making due. How's the connection?"

The video call seemed solid on my end, with only the occasional glitch, but I didn't know how strong the outgoing connection was with everything going on.

"It's fine, you sound different, but it's clear. So you're one of those things?"

"You could say that. Give me a sec." I tapped the camera button and stepped back, centering myself in its view. My sister gasped, her camera rocking a bit as she covered her mouth with her other hand. "Oh... Oh... Wow. Is that you?"

"It's me, in the fur and feathers." I spent a few minutes showing off my new self, making use of the light while we had it.

"So you've got breasts now, and a you-know down below?" She was still at work, so I understood her careful phrasing. Were she anywhere else, I knew she'd be using different terms. "Are you ok with that?"

"Of course not. I'm not okay with any of this. I should be halfway to Vegas right now. But the Universe has decided it has other plans for me." I sighed and shrugged my wings. "It's only been a few hours. It's still sinking in. Ask me again tomorrow, or next week, or next year.... Damn, this is me now."

"That's fair. Sorry if it's a sore spot. Have you called mom yet?"

I shook my head. "Not yet. Not sure why, I think I wanted to get the lay of the land first. Would you believe you're the first thing I've done online since changing?"

"Really? Who are you and why are you pretending to be my brother?" We both laughed, easing a bit of the tension. "Seriously though, mom and dad are worried sick. You better call them right after this. I don't think she knows for sure you were in this mess."

"She doesn't? My location sharing's been active with you guys for years now. She can see where I am."

"Yeah, I know that. That's why I knew you were caught. But mom couldn't figure out Google Maps with step by step instructions, and I didn't feel it was right to confirm it. So I've been dodging all day, saying you could be in no man's land with bad coverage or something."

I nodded and sighed again. "Probably a good call. I'll..." I trailed off, spotting movement in the sky. I turned my head and blinked, bringing a drone into focus clear enough to read the ID number on the tail.

"What is it? Something wrong?" Bev asked worriedly.

I shook my head and brought my gaze back to the local level. "Sorry, just spotted something in the sky. They've got drones up there."

"Yeah, the Americans are pretty on the ball over this. I think they've been privately hoping it would happen again just to see if their plans would work. You're probably better on that side of the line for now."

I tilted my head, "Is it that bad?"

"Too soon to tell, and you'll probably find out better than me, being closer. But if a deadly global pandemic couldn't get Justin and Kenny to cooperate for the greater good, do you really think the universe hiccuping and transforming thousands of people would work? I've heard a whole lot of words and very little action."

"Ugh. Well it is still early. Hopefully they can copy off the Americans and get things sorted out soon. Gonna make the election in the spring fun I'm sure."

"Hopefully." Bev glanced away. "Look, it's closing time and I've gotta get back to work. It's good to hear from you and see you're okay. Call me later and we can chat more, 'kay?"

"Sure. Not as if I'll be going anywhere. They said we'll be quarantined for a week so I'll have lots of time."

"Love yah. Call mom."

The call ended, and I sighed in relief. It was good to talk to her, to touch base with something normal, but I wasn't sure how it would go from there. I watched the phone expectantly, counting down quietly while folding fingers. "Five, Four, Three, Two, One...." I tilted my head and tried again, "Five, four, thre-"

The phone rang, caller ID showing 'Mom (Cell)'. I hit accept and the speaker icon. "Did Bev message you?"

"You know damn well she would.... Simon? Is that you? Where are you? Why haven't you called?" As I had planned, my comment had broken the ice before it could even form. It was something that told both of us that no matter what else was going on, I was okay enough to get a friendly poke against my sister.

What I hadn't planned was for her voice to come out of the car speakers instead of the phone. "Shit, hold on a sec," I said, scrambling to kill the BlueTooth connection. I had to turn the car on to control the windows, and I'd forgotten the phone connected automatically. "Can you hear me now?"

"Much better, but you sound different. Where are you? Are you okay?"

"Sorry, it was connected to the car, but I'm not in the car. As for where I am, I'm NOT in Vegas, or even on my way to Vegas. Instead, I'm going to spend a week here in beautiful Fort Parker Montana."

We started going over what happened, quickly falling into a relaxed family conversation. Some topics we skimmed past, not really wanting to go too deep into yet, but mainly we just wanted to talk. For her and dad, it was confirming that their son was still around, still their son. For me, it was reassuring to know they were there for me.

The sun was low enough that the lot lights were starting to buzz and turn on, when I saw one of the workers coming towards me.

"Hold on a sec, mom. Someone's coming over."

"Sure, we're not going anywhere."

I took a few steps to meet the worker. She was mainly brown feathered, but had a spotted grey fur pattern. "Hi there. Can I help you?" I greeted her.

"Good evening, I'm sorry to interrupt, but you're the last car. We want to make sure who owns what, and link them to new beaks. Tomorrow, we're going to condense it down, get the vehicles closer together and sort out the locals from the visitors. Judy's talking with people, volunteering the J as a base camp since we're close to the border."

"Sounds like the plans are coming together. That's good to hear. I'm Simon Farell, and this is my car."

I showed my license and let her jot down the basic info, and take pictures of the new me and my vehicle.

"I don't know where he is, but that's Paul's car. Paul... Paul... Paul M-something. He's a local. The tiger-bald eagle."

She nodded and made a note on her tablet. "Thanks, we know Paul well, and his car."

After she left, I took a moment, looking around as the automatic lights lit up. I could hear the buzzing of lights, and of insects, but the only engine noise came from the generators of the trucks in the truck lot. The road was deserted, and even the skies were empty other than the flashing lights on some high flying drones. I tried to zoom in on a few of them, and while the running lights grew clearer, my darkvision wasn't all that much better than before, so all I could see was a shadow. The stars were beginning to pop out, and the world switched to dark mode.

"Simon? You still there?"

"Sorry mom. Just taking a moment. As the Hip said, I was watching the constellations reveal themselves one star at a time." I wandered back to the car to more easily talk. "It's so quiet. There's no traffic on the highway and almost everyone's inside, or elsewhere."

"It is getting late, really late over here. But we're here for you. I'll stay on the phone as long as you want me to."

I freed the selfie stick so I could hold the phone and leaned against the car, letting my wings spread wide behind me. They were wider than the car was long. "I know you will mom. Thanks."

I paused again, thinking of what was coming. "That said, I should probably go soon. There's so much I don't know. How do I sleep? How do I use the bathroom? Hell, I barely know how to eat."

"You're smart, you'll figure it out."

I nodded, the sheer scale of how much I had to figure out was daunting. "I'm scared mom. Absolutely terrified. I'm alone. I'm in a strange country. All I have is a car I can't drive any more, a suitcase of clothes I can't wear, and my usual travel kit. I don't know what to do next. I'm standing here naked in a parking lot in the dark, and I don't know what to do."

"One step at a time. That's all you can do. And it sounds like the first step is to get some sleep. And call back first thing in the morning. Or whenever you think you need it. Your dad and I are here for you. Hell, if we could, we'd be on a plane to join you right now."

"I know you would. But please don't. Not yet. The area's locked down, so all you'd do would be to waste money. Ugh, talk about wasted money, I hope I can still get those reservations in Vegas cancelled."

It took us a long time to finally finish our goodbyes, and it was the phone running out of juice that decided it for us. It was fully dark by then, and I was finding the high plains at night were surprisingly loud when engines weren't drowning it out.

I opened the trunk and pondered what I wanted to keep on me. I emptied out my backpack, leaving my personal laptop and extra gear in the trunk, and filled it up with the stuff I knew I would need. The quaternity, my spare batteries and charger cables and a few other miscellaneous items went into the bag. Using my new hands was becoming easier with time and practice, as long as I didn't think much about it.

I was about to finish locking up, when I remembered one last item. On the back seat was a pair of pillows, brought from home. My family often made fun of my habit of bringing my own pillows on trips, but now I was extra thankful for the habit. I snagged one and tucked it under my arm. The way it rubbed the feathers on my bicep was strange, yet another novel feeling to get used to. It also bumped against my wing, yet another strange feeling.

As I walked back to the building, I heard a noise I hadn't heard all evening; a car motor coming from the direction of the town. It was a military jeep, driving slowly down the road, with a pair of spotlights that they shined along the sides of the road, clearly looking for something. Or random someones.The driver flashed his lights as they went by the truckstop, but they didn't stop. I watched them until they disappeared over the hill going towards the border.

Alex was behind the cashier counter, apparently on a zoom call with someone. He looked over as I came in through the doors and waved. "Hello, Simon. Nice, you have your own pillow. We're completely out. But we have plenty of space blankets if you want to grab one or two."

I nodded, wondering how he knew me, and snagged a couple of the packages with the silver sheets. "Thanks. I'm sorry, we never personally met..."

"True, but you're rather distinctive, even among the rest of us. I'd say everyone knows your name by now."

"Oh right, that makes sense. Anything new of note?"

"Nothing important, or at least nothing that can wait until the morning."

"I just saw a jeep go by. Looked like they were searching for something."

"Yeah, they're looking for anyone stranded on the roads. Who were too far away to get to shelter and are now stuck by cars they can't drive and stuff.They're also making sure the main roads are clear, and everyone parked on the sides.

He glanced at the clock and got up. "I'm about to kill the lights, if you want to find a spot to settle down before that. Doesn't look like we got many night owls out of this, everyone's looking to turn in early."

We walked to the restaurant, and found it was more crowded than it had been before. The number of people was about the same, but now people had staked out spots around the restaurant, making their own nests for want of a better term. Half of them were already asleep, sprawled on their bellies and sides, wings often partly spread out.

"Families with unchanged children are in the lounge," Alex said quietly. "Pick anywhere you want, as long as it isn't taped off."

I noted the freshly taped off corridors leading to the kitchen and exits. I also spotted a white feathered head by the windows. Paul turned and waved a wing, motioning me towards him. He'd obviously managed to save a spot next to him on the floor.

I followed the paths towards my new friend while Alex spoke quietly, loud enough to be heard, but not too loud as to wake up the sleepers. "Attention everyone, I'm about to kill the lights in here and dim the store lights. We'll turn it all back on at 0800. The first day is done, tomorrow we start the rest of our new lives. Good night everyone."

"I saved you a spot," Paul said, pointing to an empty area near the window. "How'd the calls go? I saw you out at the cars."

I spread out one of the mylar sheets and weighed it down on one side with the backpack I'd carried. The second I unfolded but left to one side so I could pull it over me when I was down. "Rough, but it's done. Got a hold of my sister and parents. You?"

"Angie's good, all things considered. And I talked to my dad, he's out of the zone in Helena. Mom passed away years ago. I'm probably going to head back into town tomorrow."

I set my pillow on the sheet and laid down facing Paul. It seemed to be the most popular resting position we had, and didn't seem too awkward. "Mine are out east, in Ontario."

"Ouch. That's a long ways away. You have anyone local? Back at your home in Calgary?"

"Edmonton actually, and just friends up there. Friends and coworkers but no family."

Paul nodded. "Well, after what we went through, you can consider me a friend. And it would only be proper to offer you a place to stay, at least until quarantine is done. We've got a trailer with plenty of room in a park on the other side of town. Better than a week of sleeping on the floor."

The lights went out, but there was still enough ambient light to see clearly.

"I'll keep it in mind. Thank you."

"Sleep well," Paul said, plumping up a folded up leather jacket he was using as a pillow. He closed his eyes and seemed to drop right off.

I watched him while trying to settle my own mind for rest. I noticed he hadn't bothered with a second sheet, so I had a clear view of his white furred breasts going up and down with his breathing. It was stirring strange feelings I didn't want to address, so I forced my gaze away. I suddenly remembered there were a couple of things I had wanted to do.

I reached back for my backpack, but my wings got in the way; I couldn't bend back far enough. I pushed down with the wing closest to the floor and it lifted me up enough that I could snag a loop with my claw. I pulled the bag around and pulled out my phone and a battery pack.

More alerts were still coming in, but they were starting to tail off. Some friends who also knew Bev or my parents were sending slightly different messages now as word unofficially spread. I left the backlog as a challenge for tomorrow and prepped a message to my boss.

Missing Vegas this year. Stuck in Fort Parker.

May need more vacation time.

You can let the Team know.

Ask HR if I can claim growing feathers as sick time.

I reread it thrice to make sure autocorrect didn't add anything I didn't want and sent it. My boss and I had been with the company for decades, so I knew this would relieve him, especially the last line. I wasn't serious about claiming sick leave for the change, but it was something I would say as a joke. I figured there were even odds he'd bend someone's arm to let me make the claim anyway.

The last thing I wanted to do was a simple facebook post to my friends.

Long day. Stuck in Fort Parker. I am safe. Will catch up tomorrow. Bed now.

Facebook's algorithms did their magic, and it suggested a status update. It implied someone was feeling cheeky down in California. I checked the "Marked Griffoned in the Fort Parker event." status, and finished the post.

My message triggered a fresh tidal wave of alerts, which I ignored completely. I made sure the phone was completely silent, and noted the Ingress icon. I'd been playing that game for a long time, keeping a daily activity streak active for almost a decade now. I had last checked in before leaving Medicine Hat, but if there was nothing nearby, the streak would end. I hit the button and mentally crossed my fingers, hoping I'd be able to save my streak. If there was a waypoint in range of the truckstop, I'd extend my streak for another 24 hours. If there wasn't one, my streak would die.

"Come on, come on, come on," I mumbled as the game found the GPS signal and zoomed in. The map showed a green field, indicating there was at least one local player. "YES!" I whisper shouted, seeing two waypoints in range. Neither were on my team, but I didn't care; I just had to hack them and I'd have a 24 hour extension on my streak.

Feeling relieved that some aspect of my life could still go on, I put the phone away and settled down on my pillow. I tugged the sheet up over me, more for a bit of coverage than any need for warmth, and fell fast asleep.

Sunday, September 24

On the edge of waking up, my ears twitched, flicking and then turning towards the kitchen and the sounds of sizzling. The strange dreams I was having ran away, letting me get closer to consciousness. I sniffed and sniffed again, picking up a hint of bacon.

I yawned hugely and did a mental assessment. The beak was still there, as were the wings and the breasts and everything else. I let one hand explore a bit, squeezing a breast to verify it really was there. When I reached my groin, I bumped into something and realized I had a major case of morning wood. I quickly moved my hand away and made sure the silver sheet was covering me.

I opened my eyes, blinking quickly to focus and get used to the morning light. Paul, the bald eagle griffon was in deep sleep across from me. I watched his breasts move up and down with his steady breathing. My eyes drifted lower, and widened, seeing he had a similar problem as me. His cock was at full mast out of his striped sheath, the strange barbs all over his length. I blushed and looked away, deciding I had to focus on other things.

I pushed myself up from the floor with a wing, holding the silver sheet across my breasts, and got up on my paws. I yawned and stretched my wings wide, feeling better despite all that had happened. They reflexively folded back up, twitching a bit to settle feathers in a comfortable position while I used my talons to fluff up the feathers I'd slept on. By the time I was finished preening, I felt 'normal', which was strange in and of itself. I peaked and realized my morning wood had faded, chased back with wakefulness.

I covered Paul with my sheet to preserve some of his modesty, and started gathering my gear. I tucked my pillow through the armbands of my backpack and pulled them tight to hold it in place. Maybe a quarter of us were awake that early in the morning. Most were still stretching and waking up, some not realizing just how 'woke up' they were.

My ears twitched towards the kitchen, where a cacophony of sound was coming from. Metal flippers on the grill, the shaking of a fry basket, thumps of toast dropping out of a conveyor toaster that desperately needed an oiling to fix a squeak, and the occasional "Behind" as people moved around. I had no idea how everyone else could stay asleep through the noise.

The door thumped open and a woman dressed in fatigues came out with a steamer tray half full of bacon. I looked out the window and saw two big personnel carriers parked near the side entrance. More people in uniform were loading up cases of drinks and snacks, as well as hot trays fresh from the kitchen. While we were asleep, the army had rolled in.

"Help yourself, doll," the woman greeted me, dumping the bacon out. "There's plenty enough for everyone."

I bristled a moment at the term, but my stomach overrode any objections. "Thanks, looks like the cavalry has arrived," I said, setting my pack at the far end of the counter and grabbing a plate. All the standard breakfast foods seemed available; bacon, scrambled eggs, sausage links, deep fried potatoes, piles of toast with jam and peanut butter packets. I began to load up my plate, careful not to take too much; I wasn't sure what my capacity was now, even if I was starving.

She smiled back and helped me scoop some eggs out. "Nah, we're just the first responders. The cavalry is still coming up from Titan's Step."

It took me a moment to link the Titans to the equine history of the cavalry. "Then I guess that makes us the air force."

"Perhaps. Ketchup?"

I tucked the bottle under my arm and balanced a couple of pieces of toast on the pile, with multiple packets of strawberry jam.

"Thanks. Well whatever you are, the help is appreciated."

She laughed, "You say that now, but you should've seen things earlier. You guys were deep asleep when we got here. Your Chef was less appreciative of the help, or our wanting to take over her kitchen to get things going. We got things sorted out in the end."

I added a bottle of juice next to the ketchup and flicked a wing back towards the window. "So, if you don't mind me asking, what's with the food truck?"

She took a moment to realize I was actually pointing at something. "Right, it's a rescue mission of sorts. There's apparently a hundred people stuck out at the border, and the only food they have is soda machines and whatever happened to be in the lunchrooms of the customs buildings. Oh and the Duty Free shop. This is the nearest commercial kitchen to the border, so we're going to go feed them."

"Nice, I'm sure they'll appreciate it too. I better go find a table before this pile tumbles. Thanks again."

I snagged a metal straw, a pack of cutlery and my backpack and tried to figure out where to go next. I wasn't sure how the straw would work, but someone seemed to think they would be useful. As I looked around, I spotted tables and chairs set up outside under the gas pumps canopy. Chairs were flipped around so we could sit without trying to think too much about our tails and wings. I carried my breakfast outside, nodding to a few of the other early risers, and claimed a table with a decent view of the activities going on. The sun was up, but only just. I laid out my meal and prepared to dig in.

Eating was an interesting experience. The most important thing I had to remember was to keep things small. Crisp bacon wasn't too difficult, it easily 'snapped' in my beak and I could break it up against the roof of my mouth with my tongue. Using a fork was awkward; I fed myself from the side, as close to my jaw as I could. The sound and feel of the metal on my beak just felt wrong. The metal straw actually worked, as long as I jammed it back at the hinge of my mouth. I had just enough of a cheek there to make suction. Paper straws or the old plastic straws wouldn't stand a chance, but metal worked fine.

My ears twitched to the side, hearing an engine rumble louder as it was put in gear. One of the carriers was heading for the road to feed the poor folks stuck at the border. I watched until it disappeared over the hill, and looked back at my half eaten breakfast.

"I'm really over thinking this," I mumbled. "Head's getting in the way." As a distraction, I grabbed my phone and started chipping away at all the messages that had built up. I ate as I read, finding the distraction helped. Most of the messages I knew I wouldn't have to answer; they were people wondering where I was, if I was caught and similar, so they were informed now and I could go into more details later. Some people I knew I'd need to give more details to, and started mentally building up a ToDo list.

"Good morning. These seats taken?"

I looked up and saw Paul and another griffon, both with loaded plates. "Mornin'. Go right ahead."

The other griffon had blue jay feathering, and a white furred chest, with black legs; a tuxedo cat colouring. I recognized her as one of the workers. "This is Gina, an old school friend of mine," Paul introduced us as the pair sat down.

"So I'm starving, any tips?" Gina asked.

"Small pieces and don't think about it," I suggested. "And it'll sort itself out soon enough."

We ate in silence for a bit, other than the occasional tip when it was needed. Once everyone was far enough into our breakfasts, it felt right to start talking while eating.

"So, I feel like I'm a lap behind. Do either of you know what's going to happen next?"

"No clue," Gina said. "But from what Alex told the staff, we're going to stay quite busy around here. The Fort Parker Task Force is going to set up a base around here apparently." She waved a wing to indicate the empty plains around the truckstop. "We've got the space, both on and off the parking lot, we're close to town, and we're close to the border and the centre of the change, so it makes sense."

"Yeah, it looks like things are really picking up around here." I looked around and spotted Alex and Judy talking with a few military folk on the edge of the parking lot. They were pointing out various areas both on a map and around them. On the road, a semi was parked, the flatbed loaded with a large canvas tent, similar to what I'd see at music festivals.

"Which is why Gina and I are hitching a ride back into town as soon as we can. They're going to have a taxi service to ferry us in and out of town, at least during the quarantine, so we won't have to walk," Paul said.

"It'll be good to get home for a bit. Judy wants to send us all home as soon as she can, to get a proper rest for a few hours. But I'll be back tomorrow for my usual shift."

I felt my chest tighten a bit and focused on my last piece of toast. Paul picked up on my situation before I could think of what to say. "Sorry, forgot you weren't local. You don't have to stay here, you're welcome to come with us. As I said last night, Angie and I have lots of space, even with the wings."

"I'll... I'll think of it," I said, taking a moment to stabilize my voice. "But all my stuff is here, with my car. I'll probably hang out here a bit longer, see what they do, and maybe take you up on that offer later. Thanks for offering."

We shifted to other innocent topics while they finished their meal. My own plate was clean, and I was nursing the bottle of orange juice to keep them company. It was getting louder and louder around us as more vehicles arrived bringing more equipment and people. The locations of tents and other portable buildings were being staked out under the direction of various planners.

"Well, I've got a lot of bases to touch, and this phone's not gonna cut it. Is there some place relatively quiet where I could set my laptop up?" I asked, wiping off the straw and sticking it in my bag for later.

"Sure, head to the lounge. One of the rooms has a half dozen cubicles set up, so they could do their record keeping in a more comfortable location. It's first come, first serve, but most of the truckers took care of their paperwork last night, and the ones we're getting now probably won't need the space," Gina said.

I stood up and grabbed my pack. "Thanks for the tip. I'll see you around."

"Leave your plate, we'll take it back in for you. And I'll find you before I leave no matter what," Paul said.

I shook my red wings, "It's not as if I'm hard to miss."

Back out at my car, I reloaded my backpack, leaving the pillow and putting the laptop and keyboard in. My suitcase took up a lot of space in the trunk, and I studied it pensively, trying to decide if there was anything I wanted, or could even use in there. I decided there wasn't and punted any further decisions down the line. My ears flicked back as I heard running footsteps coming in my general direction. I slammed the trunk closed and turned to see a young man in fatigues jogging towards me. He waved when it was clear I was looking at him.

"Sorry, I hoped to catch you before you got away," he gasped, taking a moment to catch his breath. "We want to gather all the cars together in one part of the parking lot. We weren't going to do that for a few hours, but I saw you out here already, so figured this is as good a time as any." He glanced at my license plate, then back at me. "I assume you have your key? I can move you to the travellers section now, save you some hassle later."

I hesitated a moment; having a moment of misgiving about giving a complete stranger control of the only thing I owned within a thousand kilometers. But, the place was jumping, and I certainly wasn't going to be driving the car myself again. I fished the key fob from a pocket of my pack and tossed it over. "Sure, take it slow, and I better not find a scratch on it when you're done," I said.

He caught the keys and looked worriedly at the hood and side panels. "Uhm...."

"I'm just kidding. Thanks for moving it for me. Take it slow and I'll follow you on foot... on paws."

We moved the car without incident and I reclaimed my key and locked it up before heading in. The trucker's area was new to me. At the end of the hallway, I saw it opened to what seemed to be a second store, filled with accessories and other items the big rigs might need or want. On the left side of the hall, two doors were marked "Showers", and two more were marked as unisex restrooms. I paused at the sight of the restroom symbol, and decided I could hold off just a little bit longer. My bladder was starting to give warning signs but I could put it off for now.

On my right, the first door was the actual lounge. A room with a big TV, three couches, and a small kitchenette against the back room. The walls were plastered with Flying J branding and posters for truck supply companies. The lounge itself was empty at the moment, but showed signs of its brief life as a nursery. Blankets and pillows were folded up on the couch, and toys, mostly cars and trucks, were scattered around, pushed out of the main paths to not be a tripping hazard. The TV was off.

The last door was the office space Gina had mentioned. It was a simple room with three desks along each wall. Cubicle walls separated them, giving a little bit of privacy. Each desk had a notepad and pen, a desk lamp and a powerbar. More advertising and branding decorated the walls, and each cubicle had a printed list of rules and the wifi password. Someone had taken the backs off the roller chairs, making it easier to sit on considering our tails.

One other griffon was in the room, set up in one of the closest cubicles. She looked surprised as I walked in, but gave me a wing wave in greeting. I waved back and picked the furthest desk from her and claimed it as my own.

"Right, here goes nothing," I mumbled after a few minutes of careful setup. Everything was plugged in, keyboard and mouse connected, phone charging, and the laptop screen was on, waiting on my login prompt. I lowered my hands in a familiar motion, and long before I reached the keys, the prompt started filling in with stars. I cursed and lifted again, seeing how my talons hit the keys long before my fingers did now.

"Damn, hunt and peck it is," I grumbled, deleting the garbage and watching my hands as I talon-typed my password in. Everything took about three times longer than I was used to, but I got online and could start doing some actual work.

First order of business was family matters. Bev answered the video call almost immediately.

"Hey Bro, Sleep well?"

"As well as you might expect, sleeping on a restaurant floor with just a pillow while wearing a backpack as big as you."

"Well, you look good for having done so. Feeling better?"

I shrugged my wings, "I guess you could say so. It all feels a bit more natural, I guess you could say, but man is it awkward. I'm not keeping you from anything am I?"

"Not at all, and especially not for you. I've got another night shift tonight, so I've got a few hours free."

"Well, I don't want to take all of it, but I figured you'd want to watch this. I'm gonna call mom."

Bev's eyebrows lifted, "You haven't shown her yet?"

"Nope, we just phoned, not vid. Ready?"

She leaned forward and a RECORDING note appeared. "Ready now. Go for it."

It took a few minutes for our mother to answer and the video signal to stabilize. Soon enough, she showed up, her expression looking surprised and shocked. "Oh!... Oh my god!.... Simon? Is that you?"

"In the feathers, mom," I said. In the corner, I saw Bev had muted her mic and covered her mouth. Her shoulders were shaking from suppressed smirking and snickering. It was a very familial reaction; surprising mom was one of Bev and I's main pastimes. This one would certainly be hard to top, but I wasn't sure it beat the time we snuck Bev over to Scotland to join us for burying grandma's ashes in her home country.

We talked for a long time, but not as long as the night before. Most of the initial subjects had been gone over before, and I needed more time to self explore before I had more to share. There was some talk about Thanksgiving plans, but that seemed too far away given my current situation, even if it was only two weeks away.

Finally, we signed off and I realized my next priority. I didn't want to leave my gear unattended, but biology was screaming. I stood up and saw a third griffon had joined us while I was talking. The other two were at the desks closest to the door.

"I wasn't too loud was I?" I asked as I headed to the door.

"Maybe a hair loud, for our hearing. But it's understandable," the first griffon said, flicking her wings. "Time for a bio break?"

"How'd you guess? Would you mind keeping an eye on my stuff for a few minutes?"

"You've got the I've gotta go but I'm too polite to run out without a word wiggle in your butt. We'll make sure no one touches your stuff. And if you want some tips, face forward and straddle, and use the wipes; our talons just shred the industrial TP on the rolls."

The first bathroom was occupied, but the second was open. The bathroom itself was a single person unisex one; with a urinal, toilet, and a sink with a small counter, and the ubiquitous branding and advertising posters. I followed the advice and straddled the toilet, one hand on a handicap support bar. I relaxed my bladder, and was a bit surprised to feel it come out of my new equipment, my penis staying nestled in its sheath. It forced me to pay attention to the new opening between my legs.

When I was done, I noted the box of 'flushable wipes' on the counter just in reach. I didn't really want to touch down there, but I knew I had to, just to be sure I was clean. I wiped as fast as I could, feeling a bit of excitement but not as much as I expected, and flushed. I took my time washing my hands, the first real cleaning I'd done since changing. It made me wonder what a shower would be like for us, but I didn't feel that adventurous yet.

"Thanks for the tips," I whispered as I reentered the office room. The other griff gave me a thumbs up from the side. I reclaimed my spot and mentally prepared myself for the next item on my list. The call to Greg, my boss.

I'd been at the company for over twenty years; while I wasn't management, I was basically the senior peon. I was also close friends with my boss who started with me way back then. Job security was the one thing I wasn't worried about; I'd been there long enough that I knew where the bodies were buried and the money was hidden. Nonetheless, I did want to give Greg a heads up, and to touch base in general.

I wasn't surprised to find him online when I switched to Teams and my status changed. His message popped up almost immediately.

Greg: You really there Simon? What's going on?

I didn't want to hunt and peck a response, so I hit the call button. He popped up on the screen, and I had my third shocked reaction of the day (after mom and dad).

"Mornin' Greg. It's me. I pretty much hit this Event dead centre," I greeted my boss and friend.

"Dang, Simon.... Dang..... " I was a little surprised to see him speechless; the only other time I had seen him this shocked was when his father died suddenly a decade ago.

"Yeah, it's me. Dang indeed. But it doesn't seem too bad. I'm still human sized for the most part, aside from these." I shook my wings that were just visible in the camera.

"Dang.... Just dang...." Greg shook his head and finally managed to get his mind back in gear. "How are you doing? How... How are you?"

"I'm fine, considering. Still getting used to it, but I'm coming around. And to answer what you're trying not to ask, I think I'll be able to come back. I do need to figure out how to type again. These are going to be deadly to keyboards." I waggled my talons in the camera view, triggering another raised eyebrow.

"Yikes! Yeah, those don't look to be office safe. But we'll figure something out. How do you want to do this?"

"No reason to hide it; I've already said as much on Facebook so the word's out there. Schedule an all hands meeting and we'll show me off and get ahead of the rumours."

Greg chuckled, "The rumours have already done a few laps already. But it's a good idea. We'll probably keep you on desk duty for now, until you figure out what you can do and how you can do it."

I winced, but nodded in agreement. "Sure, all I can do is take it a day at a time. Have you checked yet? We got anyone else in the Event area?"

"All our people have checked in and weren't affected. We do have three clients in Elkwater. It was at the northern edge of the Event and the biggest Albertan community hit. Medicine Hat dodged it all."

"Good to hear. I don't want to begin to think of what would happen if a city got hit by this mess. Absolute chaos times ten."

We fell silent a moment before Greg brought up another awkward subject. "I know it's probably too soon to tell, but when do you think you might come back? I mean, we're already ready for you to be gone for a week, do you want more time?"

I laughed, "Way too soon to tell. I can't even leave Fort Parker for a week." I clicked on the calendar and shrugged. "Let's pencil me back after Thanksgiving and play it by wing from there."

We chatted a while longer, and then I disconnected; another item off my list.

The next little bit, I spent pecking out direct messages to friends who I felt I owed more personal contact with, as well as a general status update. I then started checking the news to finally get a better feel of what was going on, and to try and figure out what my home country was doing about the Event.

It turned out, they weren't doing much, at least not yet. A lot of platitudes about looking out for affected citizens, but not much guidance on what we should do. The only concrete actions I could find that they did was the continuation of the quarantine, and that the border was open while the quarantine was in effect, so we could seek help wherever was handiest.

As Greg mentioned, Elkwater was the biggest community hit. It was a somewhat small town of a few thousand that was on the edge of Medicine Hat's orbit. Its main claim to fame was being the anchor to a provincial park and a place where Calgarians could escape to when they didn't want to go to the tourist-infected big mountains to the west. Had this hit three weeks earlier, around Labour Day, there would have been thousands of new big city griffons.

I drafted up a letter, introducing myself, where I lived and worked at, and what happened to me. I shot it off to various government officials, the PM's office, the Premier, my local MPP and MP and the members for the affected areas. I didn't expect anything to come from it, but it felt like I was doing something, to remind them of who was affected by this mess.

Bev shot me a message with a link to a youtube video. "You try this yet?"

I suspected what the video would be even before it loaded up, and I wasn't disappointed. Frankly, I was impressed that someone had managed to cut together a clip video so quickly. It was titled "Griffon Fails" and was thirty minutes of people trying to fly.

Most of the clips were from last night, after the change had stopped. People with selfie sticks or camera griffons were shown flapping their wings awkwardly and jumping, trying to get into the air to no avail. Some would climb onto cars or trucks and jump off from that with no better luck other than providing some epic faceplants that were spoiled by the nudity blurring.

The last third of the video were clips from today, barely a few hours old, and while these griffons didn't take to the skies, they did seem to do a bit better. Their jumps tended to go higher, their wings flapped stronger and in better synchronicity with the rest of their limbs. A couple even jumped off of garage roofs and seemed to glide a little before crashing to the ground. Even the crashes seemed more controlled, as they started to land on all fours and tumble a bit instead of the faceplants.

I tilted my head and mentally tugged on the thread I had found. I clicked between scenes of the video to confirm what I thought I was seeing. The videos from yesterday, fresh from the change, showed griffons who were very awkward, barely holding their wings, walking tentatively, basically a bit more than babies discovering their bodies for the first time, which made sense.

The videos from this morning showed significant improvements, the griffons were more self confident in their movements, wings and tails held more naturally, hands grabbing things without too much thought, no stumbling as they walked. They were still awkward as hell, but more like teenagers in a growth spurt than toddlers learning to walk. It was a huge change after just a night's sleep.

I thought about my own experiences and had to conclude I felt the same. Since waking, things still were awkward, but I felt more comfortable, my movements more relaxed and natural. Only the strange, 'unnatural' movements like typing gave me problems; walking, grabbing things, holding my wings in a resting state, they all just worked.

I spread my wings a bit, finding even that seemed normal; I didn't need to think of how far to move the hand or the lower arm or to bring the whole wings forward, they just swung out and spread to where I wanted them to go. I thought about flying and began to think it might just be possible. All I knew about physics and aerodynamics and biology said that flying should be impossible for us, but in light of everything else I was seeing and had gone through, I was starting to think they might all be wrong somehow.

I mulled over those thoughts while I typed up a few more messages for friends. I was now a two finger hunt and peck typer now, and sometimes could even go up to four fingers when I got into a good rhythm. My stomach gave a little growl, and I realized just how long I'd been surfing. There was one last thing I had to do before packing up.

I pulled up my hotel reservation and found a phone number on it. I kept the reservation up on the screen and gave them a call. Thankfully, their phone menu system wasn't too difficult to navigate, and I managed to get through to an actual live person.

"Good morning, Luxor Hotel, this is Angela speaking. How may I help you?"

"Good morning, Angela. My name is Simon Farell, and I'm afraid I need to cancel my reservation for this week," I said.

"I'm sorry to hear that Mr Farell. Could I please have your confirmation number?"

I shared the number and heard her clicking on her keyboard. I had an evil thought and waited as she worked through her script.

"I have you down for a single queen sized room, booked from Sunday, September 24 to Friday, September 29. Is that correct?"

"That's correct."

"OK sir, I'm sorry to tell you that since your reservation was for today, we will not be able to refund your deposit, but you will not be charged for the rooms, is that fine?"

"Yeah, that's fine," I said, listening to the rhythmic typing and occasional mouse clicks.

There was a pause while she did more computer magic. "Almost done.I see you have been a loyal member for over ten years now. So despite the late cancellation, I can still refund half of your deposit now, and I can set you up so the remainder can be used for a future reservation. How does that sound?"

I tilted my head in surprise. I'd been visiting for a long time, usually once or twice a year; but I hadn't expected to get a perk like that. "That sounds really nice. Thank you."

"You're very welcome sir." She did more typing before speaking. "Okay, so I have a deposit of 150$ on record. 75$ will be refunded to you, but it may take two to three business days to return to your credit card. The remaining balance will be on your MGM Loyalty card, ready to be used on your next visit. Does that sound good to you sir?"

"That sounds fine, more than I expected."

"Excellent. Now, if you don't mind me asking, is there a reason I can put down for your cancellation?"

I didn't have lips to smile with, but in my mind, I had a huge grin as the little trap I'd set was about to be sprung. "Sure, I decided to spend a week in fabulous Fort Parker instead of going to boring ole Vegas."

"Now, now, sir, I'd hardly call Vegas boring," she said, still typing. I listened closely, waiting for the exact moment I'd break her script. "There are many-" The typing stopped and I heard a soft 'oh'. "Just a moment sir," she said a moment before the hold music kicked in.

I stifled a laugh and waited. I knew it was a cheap joke and that I should have been more forward about my situation and why I was cancelling. But in the end it was a harmless joke, and I had all day and not much to do, so I took my fun where I could have it.

The music ended abruptly. "Are you still there sir?"

"As you might imagine, I'm not going anywhere."

"Right, just to be clear, you are currently in the Montana quarantine zone near Fort Parker? And you were affected by the Change Event?"

I clicked my beak a couple times. "I certainly am and I certainly was. Got the beak, ti- feathers, and fur to show for it." At the last moment I managed to keep my language clean, though I'm sure she had heard worse.

"I'm sorry for what happened sir. Please give me a few moments; I need to check a few more things. Please hold again."

The elevator music barely got through a verse before the line clicked on again. I heard a secondary click and realized someone else was there too. "I'm sorry this is taking so long, we want to make sure we do right by you, in light of your new condition. My manager, Suresh, would like to speak to you."

Suresh had a soft Indian accent that reminded me of a coworker I'd had years ago. "Good day, Mr Farell. How are you doing today?"

"As well as can be expected, considering what I went through yesterday."

"Yes, yes. My apologies, the question was a force of habit. Angela has told me what happened, and I wanted to speak to you about what we want to offer to you."

"Go for it."

"First, you will be receiving a full refund of your deposit in light of your condition. You will have a difficult time ahead of you, we do not want to add to them."

"Thank you. That is truly appreciated."

"Secondly, we are flagging your account with five bogo rooms, up to Cleopatra suite class. You may book five rooms for a day each and get two days. Or you may book a suite for five days and stay for ten. Or spread them out over multiple visits. It's up to you. The offer will be good for the next five years."

I let out a whistle that I hoped didn't deafen him. I'd been going to Sin City multiple times a year for over a decade now, and I knew how the perk system worked. This was the biggest perk I'd ever been offered. "Thank you, Suresh, that is mighty generous of you. And please thank Angela for me as well; she handled this call wonderfully."

"I will. Is there anything else I can help you with?"

"Nope, I'm good."

"Once again, I am sorry your visit here was interrupted, and I hope to see you soon once things settle down. Thank you for calling the Luxor Resort."

I hung up and shook my head. I'd just been hoping to get my money back, not look for twice the vacation time. I knew there was a real hidden cost in play; they were probably hoping to use me to drum up excitement when I showed up, especially if I went down before too many other griffons hit the Strip. I tilted my head and pondered the situation a moment, debating if I minded being used that way, and decided that was another Future Simon problem.

I finished packing and wandered back out to see what had happened while I was websurfing. I was amazed at how busy it was now. The Subway's gate was closed, but the restaurant was lit up, and I could see a couple of griffons and a couple of humans cleaning up and preparing food. I took a deep breath and could smell bread baking. A handwritten note said "OPEN: 1800".

The store wasn't too busy, but the restaurant area was almost painfully loud. The tables had been set up again, including some outside, and they were packed with griffons and humans, most of the latter wearing fatigues. There was even a short line waiting to get in.

I snagged a bag of chips from the decimated rack and shouldered my backpack, feeling it bump my wing. I headed outside and could barely recognize the truckstop. The Army had descended on the place and transformed it. The parking lot was filled, mostly with jeeps and other carriers, but a decent number of personal vehicles as well.

Transports and semis filled the back lot, loaded down with equipment that was slowly being distributed around the site. Two large canvas tents were going up in the empty area near the main building. Elsewhere, smaller tents and portable trailers were being set up, all in a carefully laid out grid. Power came from the local grid, but I recognized portable generators ready to kick in if needed.

"Hey Simon! Over here!" My ears twitched and I zeroed in on the voice, seeing Paul waving at me. He was by his car, now parked with the rest of the vehicles we'd arrived in. He was with a few others, watching the base being assembled.

I headed over to join them. "Wow, this is incredible. I'm surprised they could do this so quickly."

"It's what they train for," Gina said. "But yeah, it's amazing to see it in action."

"You sure you still want to stay here? It's going to be busy. Might be hard to sleep," Paul said.

"At least for one night. You might find me knocking on your door tomorrow, pillow under arm."

"We'd welcome you with open arms and open wings."

We watched the activity a bit longer before anyone spoke again. "Where'd everyone come from? I didn't recognize half the griffs in the restaurant."

"A lot of them came from the highway; stranded folk that were picked up on the way here. A big bunch of them were brought in from the border." I recognized the speaker, but didn't know her name.

Paul pointed to the closer canvas tent. "That one is being set up as a barracks for griffons. So you'll be sleeping there tonight. The other tent is for the regular folk. They don't mind us mixing when we're awake, but I guess there are too many unknowns to let us sleep mingled."

"As long as there's something to sleep on, I won't mind."

I munched on the chips I snagged and chatted with the group. Another semi rumbled up the highway from the south, hauling a large trailer. It parked slightly away from most of the other trucks. A group of soldiers wandered over to a side door near the front of the trailer. The door opened and someone inside spoke to the group. Finally, the backdoor of the trailer opened and my heart stopped for a moment. It looked like someone threw a woman out of the truck as we watched. A pink mass followed her, and inexplicably the woman straightened up in mid air. She was fully upright as the clop-clop of hooves hitting asphalt echoed across the parking lot. Five more Titans jumped down after her, in all their technocolour glory.

"Well, I guess the cavalry has arrived and now the full zoo's here," Paul noted dryly.

The Titans took their time, stretching and shaking out after a long journey. They all had blouses on that left their midriffs bare. They also wore heavily modified shorts or loincloths that covered their front legs and their foresexes, but their horse rears were bare.Most were loaded down with saddlebags on their lower halves. Some reached into pouches on their fronts to take out phones and check things or just snap pictures of the truckstop and us. The others looked around, taking in the area.

I focused on the group, blinking to bring them into closer focus. It felt like I was standing right next to them, even if I couldn't hear them. The ambient noise was too loud to hear them speak, and I couldn't read lips, let alone horse lips. The first one out, a predominantly pink Titan with a natural camouflage pattern, looked our way and nudged a companion, pointing right at us. They waved, and I waved my wing back. Her face lit up with a grin and the pair said something to the others before trotting our way.

"Looks like we caught someone's attention," Paul said.

"Sorry, that's probably on me," I said, blinking back from zoom mode. We watched the centaurs trot towards us, towering over the cars and anyone else who was around. The second one was mostly shades of dark green, a more solid colouring with only a slight change in shades across her body.

"Ahoy there! Mind if we join you?" the pink one called out once they were close enough. Her voice had a lower pitch than I'd expected, in the contralto or tenor range. She seemed to focus on me for some reason.

I looked back, and no one in our little group seemed against the idea. "We don't mind, come on over," I called back, suddenly self conscious about my own voice. Hearing the Titan speak made me realize how my own voice had tightened up, pitching upwards, like most griffons I'd met.

"I'm Susanne, and this is Mark. We're volunteers from Titan's Step as you can tell. We're here to help where we can. To show the Change isn't the end of your lives, just the start of a new phase of it."

Close up, they towered over us. I was still trying to mentally adjust my size scales to the change. I was pretty sure I'd lost a few inches in it. The Titans on the other hand had gained a few feet in height with their change last spring. While griffons tended to be in the five foot five range, Titans tended to be around the eight foot range. This basically gave us an excellent view of their pouches and chests.

"And you wanted to check out the competition in the Changed Olympics, right?" Gina asked. We could tell she was smirking, but I wasn't sure the Titans could read that.

Mark waved her hand, "Guilty as changed."

"I've gotta say, it's nice to see some colour among you. When you are used to Titans, everywhere, everywhere else starts looking rather bland. But you, you guys look beautiful," Susanne said, indicating Gina and me in particular.

"Thanks, I haven't really thought about it much. But it has made me noticed around here," I said. I was mentally trying to sort out how to properly address the Titans; their looks said female, but Susanne's name indicated she'd been a woman half a year ago, but now she was probably a male in the front, whereas Mark was likely the opposite now. Unless of course they had adjusted their names since they changed, or maybe Suzanne had been a boy named Sue before. I gave up before it gave me a new headache.

"So how are you all doing? Everyone coping well? Anyone start experimenting much yet? Anyone feeling fris-OW!" Susanne rubbed her freshly punched arm and glared at Mark.

"Please excuse him. We've been on the road for the past twenty hours in a cramped trailer. You'd think that would be enough time to get back into a human society mindset, but some of us take a bit more time to get our tact back on."

Susanne nodded and got serious. "But that does bring up something you need to keep at the back of your minds. You are still human, and don't let anyone try to convince you otherwise; but you are no longer homo sapiens. Our biology is completely different now, and so is yours. Just how different you'll find out in the days and weeks and months to come... Hell it's been six months and the Titans are still figuring out this whole reproduction thing. Hopefully your guys will be simpler.

"So what I'm getting at is that you have a clean slate. You have your pasts and that is important. But you're new, this is your chance to figure out who you are, and who you will be. Both here in your land, and for the rest of the world."

"Some heavy words. We're just on day 1," Paul said.

Mark nodded, "Of course, but you'd be surprised at how fast things settle. Especially as you try to balance what feels good and comfortable versus what you want for your new cultural norms.

"Take your breasts for example. You all have them, and while they are big, they seem well supported. Are you going to bother with bras? Shirts? Or will you just go topless. The fact you have such large wings on your back is a factor as well; fitting a shirt may be a pain and may interfere with flying.... Can you fly?"

"The jury's still out on that. Some have tried but I don't think there's been any success yet," I chimed in.

"Well, it's still early but I'm sure you guys will figure it out. So you'll have to figure that out, and balance it with the weather too. How cold durable are you? Winter's coming, how will you stay warm? How comfortable will you be among other griffons? Other humans? Titans or Apes?"

"That's a hell of a lot to bring up all at once," Gina said. "Especially with people you just met."

Susanne smiled, "True, we need to work on our pitch. But we're six months ahead of you guys, so we've tripped over some of the potholes already and want to help you avoid them. Just keep it in mind and it'll settle out."

"It's good for them. But I'm just a traveller. Once quarantine's up, I'm booting it back up north," I noted.

Mark nodded, "Good for you, but keep in mind that's another aspect of the change to think of. You can go home, but you're forever tied to these lands now. Even as you go out on your own, you're now a representative of griffons. You'll be how a lot of regular folk will see your feathered kind. So go with what's comfortable, and what will work for your cousins down here, and your children, and grandchildren and so forth."

"We nearly made a mistake early on," Susanne said. "We tried to cover up everything as we started leaving Titan's Step, to follow human norms and what we felt applied because it used to apply. But covering these rears especially is a pain in the ass, almost literally. So we more or less collectively decided tops and fronts are fine, but the back ends are too much. There are some exceptions, but it's working so far."

"Well, the first thing we need to figure out is how the hell we can get dressed. Then maybe we'll decide on the dress code," Gina noted.

"It'll come faster than you'd expect," Mark said. He looked around. "Honestly, I'm a bit surprised you guys haven't done any toga-ing or other makeshift stuff. Day 1 we were wrapping ourselves up in whatever we could find."

"Well, we aren't dealing with the remnants of a blizzard. The weather is certainly a factor," Paul said.

We chatted for a long time, the group growing and shrinking as others joined us. Gina and Paul excused themselves to catch a ride back into town. I slipped away at the same time.

"Woo-ey, that was a lot," Paul said, letting out a loud sigh once we were well away. "That's only six months. I hope we aren't that way by then... or ever."

"Yeah, they're a bit True-Believery for my tastes. They did have some points, but I think I'd rather let others sort it out," I agreed with him.

"Well, keep in mind these are the ones who were at hand when the Titan convoy left yesterday. I'm sure not all Titans are like that; most are probably just like us, looking to figure out what a normal life is now," Gina noted.

Paul and I nodded in agreement. "Well maybe they'll get some more normal Titans up in later groups," I said.

"Still, they do have some good points," Gina noted. "Like her comment about tops," Gina cupped her own breasts. "You were guys before, you had no idea. But mine were bigger before, and a real pain in the back and front. Not to mention getting bras that fit and shirts that fit. These, I barely notice them; they don't feel heavy, they don't feel like they need support. I could easily stay topless and be completely comfortable now. Especially if wearing a top means trying to work something on my back above these wings and in these feathers."

"Well no one's forcing anyone into anything yet. Who knows, maybe a tailor has a good idea for a comfortable top for us?" I said. "I am wondering a bit what we'll do once winter gets here. I should be back in Edmonton then, and that place isn't known for its mild winters."

"That's a problem for Future you, right?" Paul asked. I hadn't realized I'd used that term enough for him to pick up on it, but apparently I had. "So, sure we can't convince you to come into town with us? Leave the fun house for a bit and go into the aviary?"

"I want to give it one more night at least, stay close to my gear. But I know where you live and I've got your number; I'll certainly come by before quarantine is up."

We chatted while they waited in line for their ride. Their ride was a truck towing a flatbed trailer with railings that could hold a half dozen griffons for the trip into town. I waved as they drove off, and resisted the urge to chase after the truck to stay with a friendly face. It slowly sunk in that I was now truly alone. I turned away and shifted my bag to the other shoulder and went back to the store.

More Titans had arrived and were spreading out. As I started to walk into the store, I almost bumped into a pair of them. One was zebra-striped in metallic red and blue, the other was white with shiny gold stars. We stared at each other through the doorway before I stepped to the side. "I'm sorry, go ahead," I said, letting them leave first.

I watched them head for the road, showing more confidence than I had. They clearly had a destination in mind, which was more than I had. I shook my head and got in line for the restaurant.

The rest of the evening was uneventful. Dinner was good, but seemed blander than I expected. The rest of my biology seemed to kick in soon after eating, and I had to figure out how everything worked. Thankfully the toilet was big enough that I could fully use it for number one and number two without missing or making too much of a mess.

I then found a quiet area and spent a few hours chatting, including another call to my parents. I found I could almost type normally if I tilted the keyboard the right way. With the battery dangerously low, I packed up for the night and stretched. The sun was long gone, but the area was brightly lit. I realized there was a significant chill in the air, but I didn't seem to feel it; I was aware of how cold it was but didn't feel particularly cold.

The griffon barracks was half full when I showed up. Outside, a couple of soldiers were manning a desk. They took my name and assigned me a spot inside the tent. The tent itself was dimly lit with a simple insulated floor to lift us off the ground. There were two main aisles, with numbered rectangular spaces marked off. Padding, little more than heavy comforters, was provided in each space along with sheets and a pillow. I realized I had forgotten my own pillow, but didn't feel like going back to get it.

My eyes adapted to the dim light as I sought for my assigned number. Darkvision wasn't our strong point it seemed, but once I adjusted, I decided it was a little better than it used to be. More than good enough to find a spot in the grid in dim light. As quietly as I could, I set up the bed, and settled down for my second sleep as a bird-cat.

Monday, September 25

I slept well, having barely remembered vivid dreams. They felt like flying dreams, but the details faded before I could remember them. There were also erotic aspects to them that didn't quite fade as I woke up. Half asleep, I rubbed my breasts with the back of my arm and could feel a familiar morning hardness. I remembered where I was and woke more fully, stopping my self exploration.

I tugged at the sheet to make sure I was still fully covered, and did a mental assessment. My nipples were hard and tender to the touch, not that I was touching them any more. And my cock was hard, hard enough that I could feel the strange barbs on it with a light touch of my finger; it was another thing I was quick to leave alone. Strangely, the rest of the equipment I had down below didn't seem responsive. I could sense it was down there, but it didn't seem to want to be aroused. I wasn't sure if that was normal or not, and I doubted anyone knew yet.

I laid on my side for a long time, willing my body to calm down. Around me, I could hear the steady breathing of more sleeping griffons. Occasionally one would grunt or shift in their sleep, and my ears would twitch towards them.

Finally, I felt I was safe to wake up and opened my eyes. The tent was dark with a few nightlights scattered around, but I could see fairly clearly. The spots immediately next to me were empty, but another griffon was asleep a couple of squares away. She was darkly feathered, like a falcon, with a grey furred bottom that reminded me of a lynx or bobcat. She had covered herself with a blanket, but her sleep movements had entangled it in her wings. Unlike me, she didn't seem to have a problem with morning wood, but she seem to be having erotic dreams, with a hand at her groin. I looked away quickly and got up.

The morning sun was blinding compared to the darkness of the tent. A soldier at the desk waited patiently while I blinked and squinted and got my day eyes on.

"Good morning, I hope you had a restful sleep. Do you have everything? We have a lost and found, but best to double check now before it gets tossed in a pile," he asked.

I showed my bag. "It was a great sleep. And I'm all set here, thanks."

The encampment was relatively quiet compared to the day before. The griffons were mostly sleeping in, and the humans seemed to be focused on quieter tasks. The air was crisp, with a heavy dew on everything, but it wasn't uncomfortable. The air felt more alive than before, but I couldn't tell anything different. I felt better attuned to every gust of wind, my wings twitching in reaction.

Breakfast was served buffet style again in the restaurant. I loaded a plate and grabbed an isolated table. Checking my messages, I saw Greg wanted an all hands meeting as soon as I was ready. Knowing the office well, I told him 10 would be a good time. Any time was good for me, but I knew that would be best for the office. It would give the rumour mill time to churn but not enough time to go crazy. A few minutes after my message, the meeting invite went out.

I lingered over the remains of my breakfast, skimming the news. Chaos still seemed to be reigning, but signs of organization were starting to appear. The main priority at the moment from the governments, seemed to be to identify the full impact of this Event, figure out who changed, where we were from and what we were now.

I dropped my dirty dishes off, and started to think of what I'd do at the meeting. Behind the counter was a mirror, so I checked myself out in it, wiping my beak and smoothing my feathers. I continued down, combing my chest fur a bit with my talons, and focused on my breasts for a moment.

"Crap," I mumbled, realizing that they probably wouldn't really be acceptable to show on a business call. Given the circumstances, I could probably be given a pass, but I didn't want a pass if I could avoid it.

I retreated to the parking lot and popped the trunk. For the first time, I pulled my suitcase out and unzipped it. I'd originally written it off as unusable, and most of it still was. The socks were certainly not going to fit, and I was pretty sure the underwear wouldn't fit any more. Maybe I could do something with the pants, but I doubted it. For now, the shirts were what I was after.

Most of my wardrobe tended to be short sleeved polo shirts and those are what I went to. The button neck would hopefully give it a big enough opening to fit my changed head. Then it would just be a matter of hoping it would fit over my breasts.

I grabbed the first shirt and held it up to my chest to eyeball it. It looked like the shoulders might be broad enough, but the first shirt was fully buttoned up. I set it aside and started digging, finally finding a blue shirt that was fully unbuttoned. Pulling it over my head and beak wasn't too difficult. Getting my hands through the short sleeves was also relatively easy, but the sleeves felt strange on my feathered biceps, and a bit too tight. I carefully pulled it over my breasts and felt the fabric catch on my wings, unable to go any lower. It was tight across my breasts and it made my nipples itch and almost show through. The unbuttoned collar gave a view of furry cleavage. All in all, I decided it was barely business appropriate.

I repacked the suitcase and slammed the trunk shut, tugging at the shirt occasionally. It was bunched up at my wing shoulder joint, and under my breasts, lifting them up. Double checking I had everything, including my headset and mic this time, I locked up and went back into the truck stop.

"Mornin' Simon," Alex greeted me as I came back in. "Business Zoom call time?"

"How'd you guess?" I asked, tugging again.

"You're the fourth I've seen this morning. And you all seem to have had the same idea. Just so you know, there will be a signup for access to some fashion designers who are coming in. They're still designing what will fit, but if you get in early enough, they should be able to make you some useful clothes for when you leave."

"Thanks, I hadn't thought that far ahead yet, but I suppose I should have something when I leave."

The cubicles were half full when I arrived. I claimed a spot and got set up. I still had half an hour to kill, so I pinged a friend/coworker to do an equipment check. The headset balanced awkwardly on my head, the speakers not quite on my ears and the mic hovered in the general proximity of my beak.

"Mornin' Rob," I greeted him. He knew what had happened to me, but we hadn't actually spoken yet.

"Simon! What a surprise! I take it you're the reason for the All Hands?" Rob greeted me. His voice was a bit tinny from the headset speakers, but I could still hear him fine.

"Part of the reason. I just wanted to do a bit of an equipment check beforehand. How do I sound?"

"A bit clipped and higher pitched than usual, but you sound fine."

"Good, good. Here comes the video."

I turned on the camera and pushed back a bit, centering myself in the view as best I could without looking like I was leaning to close. It showed the collar of my shirt and a bit of my chest fur, but not much of my cleavage. I saw Rob gasp as the video signal reached him.

"The video is... is fine," he said after a moment. "That's really you?"

"It's me."

We chatted for the rest of the pre meeting time, and only disconnected when the reminder popped up. Greg sent me a few messages to confirm I was waiting, and suggested I wait and try to slip into the meeting with the crowd. Normally, I tended to be an early joiner, but I suspected he wanted to hide my presence as long as possible. So I waited, seeing the member count climb. A minute after the meeting started, it was at 73 attendees, a good 90% of the company. I joined in and saw Greg in the middle of his introduction.

"-oining today. As you might expect, this meeting is to address the Event that occurred this weekend. Please hold any questions for the end, I'll try to keep this short so everyone can get back to work."

Teams lit up as a few others noticed my presence and shot me questions. I ignored them for now.

"First of all, I want to assure everyone that it is business as usual. Our offices are not affected, nor are most of our clients. So we'll continue as we always have. We're over five hundred kilometers from the affected area, so there is no reason to not continue as normal.

"We have reviewed our client list, and we've determined that we have three clients in Elkwater, which is in the affected area. We also have five more clients with satellite offices within the affected area. I have already reached out to them to assure them that we will continue to serve them with the professionalism and reliability they have come to expect from us.

"I know some people may have misgivings about going into the affected areas. For now we will not force anyone to travel there, and as long as we can maintain service in the area, we should be able to accommodate people's concerns. After the meeting, let HR know if you want to remove your availability for covering that region.

Greg paused and sent me a quick "Ready?" ping. I sent back a thumbs up.

"And now to address the griffon in the room," he said. I groaned softly, wondering how long he had been sitting on that. "You all know our Senior Tech, Simon Farell. Last Friday, he was helping out a client in Medicine Hat before starting his weeklong vacation. He ended up caught in the Event, and is now stuck in the quarantine zone. Even with everything that he has been through, he has reached out to me, and wanted to reassure everyone as soon as he could. So without further ado, go ahead Simon."

I took control of the meeting with the camera on, and waited a beat for people to take in what they saw.

"Good morning everyone. Yes, this is me. I'm sure you have a lot of questions; I certainly have a lot of questions. Sadly, answers are still quite sparse. I'm here today, on my vacation I might add, to try and wrangle the grapevine before things get out of hand."

On the side of the screen, the text was almost a blur from all the comments and questions going by.

"So the big question is what happens next, and honestly, I don't know. Nor does Greg. But we're going to try and look at the best case scenarios.

"For me, it means returning to work. While I need to adapt some of my skills to my new physiology, there's no reason I can't do what I've always done. I'm stuck down here in the quarantine zone for the rest of the week, but as soon as I can get back to Edmonton, I'm heading home. I'll need some adjustment time there, but we're tentatively planning my return for after Thanksgiving.

"I have a couple of projects that are on hold while I'm on vacation. Since that's been extended, I need to make sure someone picks them up. Greg and I will be in touch with some of you about that later. And otherwise, I guess that's it. I'll open the floor for questions."

The rest of the hour went by quickly with Greg wrangling questions from the staff. Most of them were what I was beginning to consider 'standard questions', though many we had no answers for. Towards the end, I began to be distracted, hearing more noise outside. Greg quickly wrapped things up, while Rob sent me an urgent link to a video with a note about You gotta see this.

I left a quick message to Greg to say I had to check on something, and kicked off the video. The title was simple, 'Flight Attempts, Morning Day 3". I recognized the griffon as one I'd seen videos of yesterday. She seemed extra determined to get her wings to work.

She was fearless, standing on the edge of her garage after climbing out of a second floor window. Her partner was recording from the ground. Her wings were half extended, in a position that seemed strange. She moved them slowly, as if feeling the air.

"Good morning everyone, this is my first attempt on Day 3, and I'm feeling really good about this. It's hard to explain but something feels different today," she narrated. "So, here goes everything..."

She jumped off the roof, and snapped her wings forward. She barely dipped below the lip of the roof before climbing higher into the air. Her wings flapped again and she climbed higher. She let out a primal screech of joy and went higher, tail feathers spreading, furry legs stretching behind her. Her camera griffon almost lost sight of her, surprised by the success. When the camera locked onto the flyer again, she seemed to realize what she was doing, and was in the middle of a coyote reaction. The smooth wing motion became awkward again, and she rapidly lost air. She managed to aim at a lawn and fell out of the sky, tumbling awkwardly.

"She did it. She fucking did it," her camera person was saying, running to check on her.

I stopped the video and shook my head. I stretched my wings a bit and looked at them. She showed we could fly, did I dare try to do it as well?

Rob and Greg were both pinging me for attention. I pulled them into a common chat so I wouldn't have to repeat myself.

"Did you watch that video?" Rob asked. "It's gone viral... hell it's gone COVID."

"I was going to ask the same thing," Greg said. "It doesn't look like it should be possible."

"I saw it," I confirmed. "And I think word's spreading around here. Lots of shouting and a lot more chatter going on around here. I figured it was impossible, but so is transforming into a griffon in the first place, so what do we know about impossibilities?"

I noted Bev and mom were pinging me as well, along with a bunch of other friends.

"So I guess we know what you'll be doing the rest of the day. Be careful and try not to break anything," Greg said. "I hope to see you flying to the office when you get back. And thanks for wearing a shirt. It doesn't look all that comfortable, but I appreciate the consideration."

"No problem. But you got that right; it rubs in all the wrong places, including places I never considered rubbing before. See you guys."

It took me way too long to extricate myself from my online obligations, and from my shirt; the shirt literally ruffled my feathers the wrong way when I tried to get it off. But eventually I was able to pack up and see what was going on. The building was almost deserted. Outside, every griffon was focused on the skies. A couple dozen cat-birds were already up there, circling the truckstop and just figuring out how to fly. The ground had another dozen sitting or laying on it, looking a bit dazed but uninjured. Some people, human and griffon, were trying to organize things, but chaos ruled the roost.

I went to put my bag in the trunk and remembered the car key at the last moment. I fished it out and held it, trying to decide what to do. Leaving my car unlocked felt wrong, but I had no way to carry the key otherwise. I felt a pang of jealousy for the Titan pouches. Instead, I found my sneakers and fished out the laces, tying the key to a shoelace and making a necklace out of it.

Since the army encampment had surrounded the truckstop on one side of the highway, most of the griffons were crossing the highway to try their wings out over the open space on that side of the road. I crossed and found a relatively clear spot where I could spread my wings. Taking off from the ground seemed a little more difficult, but doable judging from the attempts I saw from others.

"Any tips?" I asked a griffon to my left.

"I've heard you should go zen and just let it happen," she replied.

As good a plan as any, I closed my eyes and spread my wings a bit. I could feel the air around me, in more detail than I'd paid attention to before. The lightest breeze on my fur and feathers gave me a hint on the conditions. I turned and adjusted my wing position, trying to find something that felt right.

My focus was broken by someone grunting to my left. I glanced over, and the griffon I'd spoken to before was jumping into the air. There was a woosh as she brought her wings forward and she climbed a bit higher. A second flap and it looked like she would make it. The third flap didn't seem to move in the right ways though, and she oofed and crashed to the ground, belly flopping on the dusty ground.

"You okay?" I called out.

She picked herself up and dusted her furry front off. She shook her wings and stretched, checking herself for injuries. "I'm good!"

I closed my eyes again and focused on the air. Muscles I wasn't fully aware of twitched, rustling my flight feathers as I got my wings into position. I flexed my toes, the feline claws I'd completely forgotten about extending and digging into the dirt.

I crouched and spread my tail feathers, and waited. A gust of wind blew towards me, and without a second thought, I jumped. Powerful muscles pulled my wings forward, and I could feel the air catch against my flight feathers, the feathers pulling hard on my wings. The ground dropped further and further away with each flap.

I did my best to not think about what I was doing. My legs stretched out in line with my tail, while I tucked my arms up against my chest, just beneath my breasts. Wind flowed over me, like a full body brush, going through feathers and fur alike. Before I knew it, the cars in the parking lot were the size of Hot Wheels, and I felt I could shift my flight style, less flapping and more gliding, twitching to follow the stronger wind currents I could feel around me.

I had a moment of terror when I realized just how high I'd gotten. I started trying to direct my wings more directly, wanting to get lower, and found myself in free fall. It felt like an eternity for me to get back into the right mindset, but with the gas station canopy dangerously close, I got my wings oriented the right way again, and turned the fall into a glide. A glide I used to get the rest of the way to the ground.

Landing was awkward, even in zen mode. I didn't realize how fast I was going until the pavement was under my paws and I was approaching a parked car at what felt like light speed. I flapped in a strange motion that started killing my speed, but before I was properly stopped, my mind got in the way again. My paws hit the ground and claws tried to dig in, but I still thumped against the car, talons scratching against the side panels as I absorbed the impact.

I laid against the car for a long moment, panting hard, heart pounding. My toes ached from the strange pressure I'd put on my claws. My wings burned from their exercise, though they didn't seem all that tired. My entire body was tingling from the thrill of flight, including, to my embarrassment, a visible erection. I was thankful I was facing the car and hidden from view.

I made sure the key fob was still around my neck, and waited until I felt I had recovered and was presentable again. I looked around to get my bearings and to decide when I wanted to try again. The air around the truckstop was getting busy as more and more figured out how to work their wings. Landings often were tricky, but somehow no one seemed to injure themselves badly, no matter how high they came down from nor how fast they landed.

I returned to the other side of the highway and started practicing my takeoffs and landings. Surprisingly quickly, the actions began to smooth out, becoming muscle memory instead of zen movements.

By mid afternoon, I was gliding in a wide circle around the Flying J. I had no clue how high I was, but the building and the encampment around it seemed to be big dollhouse size. I could easily see Fort Parker in one direction, and the border and customs buildings in the other direction. Gliding, I was finding, was very low energy and relaxing; I sometimes had to twitch a wing to handle the wind, but otherwise I could just enjoy the flow of air over my body. It was chilly this high up, but I didn't feel the cold, at least not in a way that was uncomfortable. The skies over the town were filled with more griffons exploring their new freedom.

I used my vantage point to get the lay of the land of the town, matching it up to the Google Maps view I'd glanced at before. The highway to the border became a commercial boulevard a short distance from the Flying J. It was lined with fast food restaurants and car dealerships and other miscellaneous businesses. A bridge carried it over three east-west train lines, and then it became the town's big box district, with the Walmart, Home Depot and similar stores. A few klicks beyond that, it joined onto I-94. I squinted that way, and noticed the exits were blocked, but there was some truck traffic on the highway as if it was still open.

The downtown core of the town hugged the banks of a river I didn't know the name of. It was a nice looking downtown, mostly older buildings with a few newer taller office buildings. There were signs of renovations and fresh construction, showing a town that had weathered the difficulties of the early 21st, and was now in a resurgence. The fairgrounds, arena and the campus of the state university were easy to see among the sprawl of suburbia. Paul's trailer was in a trailer park near the big box area, between the tracks and the interstate. From where I was, it didn't seem far away at all.

An enjoyable eternity later, I landed near my car and rested next to it. I was starving, tired, and exhilarated; the ability to fly almost made the change worth it. I texted Paul, asking if the invite was still available, and went inside to grab a late lunch.

Paul reconfirmed the invite, so I repacked my backpack, making sure I included my 'business shirt' in case I had to do a work call again, and practiced carrying it in flight. Flying while carrying an awkward bag was annoying as I discovered. I ended up hugging it to my chest, with the straps twisted around my wrists to make doubly sure I didn't drop it. The weight and shape also threw off my newly acquired instincts. I ended up doing a few loops around the truckstop to make sure I felt secure in the air. Then, with a little bit of trepidation, I set my mental target on the trailer park across town, and set off.

I spotted the Bald Eagle-Tiger coming towards me while I was crossing the tracks. He waved at me. I did not wave back.

"Hey there!" I shouted, "Sorry I can't wave."

He circled around me at a distance; we had literally just learned to fly, formation flying was something to figure out later. "No worries, welcome to my humble abode. I'm just down there."

He started dropping down, heading to a nondescript trailer among many similar rectangular boxes. "I hope I wasn't too hard to spot up here," I called out.

He laughed and almost stumbled his landing. My own landing was a little rough as well, being off balance due to my pack. "Yeah, you were so hard to spot, being the only phoenix in the sky," he laughed once we were on the ground.

I adjusted my bag and shook myself to settle my fur and feathers. "That was a lot less difficult than I was expecting it to be," I said, following him up onto a deck that fronted his home.

"Yeah, had I known we'd be flying, I would've stuck it out another night at the J. It would have saved me walking home from Walmart yesterday. Simon, this is my girlfriend, Angie, Angie, this is Simon."

Another griffon was cooking on a well used BBQ. She was a falcon, with an orange, Garfield-style furry half. "Hello Simon. Thank you for taking care of my Paul," she greeted me.

"It was nothing; I was happy to help. And he helped me just as much afterwards." We leaned close and rubbed beaks before I let her get back to the BBQ.

What followed was a pleasant evening, making new friends and just trying to pretend things weren't turned upside down. We talked, watched the news, and shared some beers. Alcohol seemed to have similar effects on our new bodies as on our old ones. We finally went to bed after midnight. My bed was a pullout from the couch in their living room. The mattress was too thin but with enough blankets it wasn't too bad.

Tuesday, September 26 

Things began to move quickly as the week went on. A clearer picture of the affected area was developing. Roughly a hundred thousand people in total, sixty in Montana, thirty in Alberta and ten in Saskatchewan. Politically, it was a nightmare as two provincial, one state and two federal governments trying to sort out who did what.

Thankfully, the people on the ground were having none of that bullshit. The camp next to the Flying J was the centre for all things griffon related. Experts of all sorts were brought in virtually and physically to help us out. Volunteers were in high demand for everything, from learning how we flew, to how our biology worked, and just how we could do things now. Sessions were also available where experts could go over what they learned and to spread the word on what our new lives would need.

One list I made sure I got on as soon as I could, was the designer list. I intended to go home as soon as I could when quarantine lifted, and I was going to need a wardrobe to wear when I left. So I figured volunteering for the fashion designers would let me get in on the ground floor.

With nothing else to do but wait, I went into a preening session an eagle expert was putting on. Feather care was something we were sorting out, but no one quite understood what we had to do. The dreams had given us the basics of sorts, but no one quite knew how often we would need to preen, or other details. The bird experts in the session described how normal birds did it, and only confused us further.

Thankfully, I was saved by a summons; a fashion designer had picked me to be their model. I excused myself from the preening group and left, heading for one of the larger tents that were not for sleeping in.

The tent was noisy when I went in. There was the whir of sewing machines, the hiss of irons and steam presses, snipping of scissors and a lot of chatter going on. All of the activity was hidden behind a divider wall, with a reception area at the front.

"Hi there. I'm Simon Farrell, I'm here to meet with Jacques Broussard," I said to the receptionist.

"He's on Station six. Go through the door here, midway down, on your left," she replied, barely giving me a second glance while jotting down some notes.

"Thanks," I said.

The main area of the tent was spacious. A dozen stations were set up along the sides with sewing machines, cutting tables, full body mirrors and a lot of things I didn't recognize. A library of fabric was at the far end of the tent, apparently for anyone to draw from as inspiration hit. Eight of the stations were occupied by a designer, a gaggle of helpers and one or two griffons. I quickly noticed how half the griffons tended to have the more exotic plummages; blue birds, cardinals, orioles. There was some obvious selection bias in play.

I put that thought to the side and spotted station 6. The designer was sitting at a table working in a sketchbook with a couple of helpers. I made my way over, trying to ignore the eyes staring at me.

"Excuse me, Jacques Broussard? I'm Simon Farrell," I introduced myself.

The designer looked up and did a double take. I heard him mutter "Incroyable!" under his breath before he got to his feet and we fist bumped. "Welcome! Welcome Simon. Please, have a seat, make yourself comfortable."

I sat on the stool he indicated and waited, not quite sure what was expected. The designer studied me with a gaze that rivaled the eagle eyes I now had. Finally, he sat down, clearly processing his ideas.

"Sorry, it is not often you have the chance to work with such a beautiful blank canvas. May I ask, what would you say your fashion level was before?"

I laughed and shook my head. "I don't think anyone would call me beautiful before. As for my fashion sense, it was nonexistent. My entire wardrobe is... was khakis and polos from Mark's."

"Mark's?... Mark's.... OH! You are Canadian! I should have realized that from how you said my name."

"My French has basically rusted away, but Mademoiselle Broussard was my sixth grade French teacher, so the name has certainly stayed with me."

He flipped his sketchpad to a clean page and got ready. "Okay then, no fashion experience in the past. What about now? What are you looking for?"

"Practicality. I want things I can wear to work, that are comfortable to walk around in, and to fly in. Stuff that won't draw the wrong type of attention here or back in the city."

He nodded and jotted down a few notes. "Well that is what we are here for. You are brand new to everyone, so establishing your fashion baselines is an opportunity that has come twice in a year for designers like me. Your particular challenges will be fun to solve."

"Challenges like these?" I asked, spreading my wings wide. The stations they had allocated were barely big enough for a full wing extension.

When he recovered, he nodded. "Yes, those, and your tails and feathers and fur and your general shape... The Titans taught us a lot, you are on an entirely different level."

"Have you done any Titan work?" I asked, pulling my wings back in.

"Just un peu. I was late to the party so to speak, and honestly, they are not that difficult to work with, just bigger."

He paused and regathered his thoughts. "So you want practical, what do you mean by that?"

"Stuff that's comfortable to wear, and doesn't look too fancy, or ride up where it shouldn't or squeeze too tight. But for flying I guess it has to be fairly tight just for aerodynamics."

"Tight but not too tight. A fun challenge. Anything else?"

"Pockets! Some place to carry our phones and wallets and keys, without needing to carry a purse. Flying with bags is horrible, so purses are right out. We need pockets."

"Of course. Pockets. How about colours or textures? Anything in particular you have in mind?"

"Fashion newbie. As long as it feels nice and fits well enough, I don't really care."

He nodded and made a few more notes before flipping the book over and starting to sketch.. "Well, it would be a shame to draw attention away from such beautiful plumage. Let's get started. Please step over to the mirrors and Julie and Nick will start taking your measurements."

Getting measured was much more involved than I expected. I'd been fitted for suits before, and was expecting leg length and chest diameter and similar, but these helpers were measuring EVERYTHING. They even made me hold out my wings and tried to get my wing bicep sizes and flight feather lengths.

"Isn't this a bit extreme?" I asked as they worked on my wing dimensions. "I'm pretty sure I'm not going to be covering my wings up."

"True, but it is for your mannequins. We've got some fabbers waiting for your dimensions to make us some forms. Then we won't need to pin the fabric on you to fit things out. A proper model of you with your wings and tail will make things a lot easier for all of us," Julie said.

I sighed and relaxed, letting them move me as needed. I took the opportunity to study myself in the mirrors. It was the first time I had to see all of the new me at once. I didn't recognize me.

Sure I'd seen glimpses and parts of me before, but the reflection looking back at me had nothing familiar to it; at least nothing left of the reflection I'd seen for the forty five years I'd lived. I felt myself tensing up, wanting to smash the mirrors and run. Nick seemed to sense the change and stepped in front of me, blocking my view of my reflection.

"First time seeing yourself?" he said.

"Yeah... I wasn't expecting that."

"Most of you weren't. I figure we're burning off seventy years of bad luck from broken mirrors today alone. We can put them away for now if you want?"

"No. I have to get used to this eventually right? It's me now, for better or for worse."

He nodded and stepped aside, motioning for Julie to move away as well. I saw Jacques also watching my reaction, and tried to tune them all out to focus on the reflections in front of me.

The griffon was similar to the hundreds of other griffons I was seeing around the truckstop and around town. Furry legs, feathered wings, a slightly hunched forward stance while standing on toes. Part of me still found that stance was strange, but it was comfortable. The fiery griffon I saw looked pretty, in an exotic way.

I flicked an ear and saw the reflection's black furred ear twitch. I extended my left wing and the reflection's fiery wing spread out, showing the red and oranges of her feather pattern. I opened my beak, and her smokey grey beak opened wide, her tongue wiggling at me. I blinked and glimpsed a strange eyelid move across her eyes from back to front instead of top to bottom. That nearly broke me, but I shifted my focus, looking lower. I cupped a breast, and she cupped her own. Further down, I could see her sheath, nearly invisible in her fur. I straightened up a little, and she did as well, her tail feathers brushing the floor. It gave me a clearer view of her sheath and the hint of the dark lips of her opening below it. I had enough and turned away, seeing her turn with me out of the corner of my eye.

"You okay?" Julie asked.

"Yeah, just give me a minute," I said, walking away from the mirror. "Sorry, I didn't expect that."

"We sort've did. That's why I chatted with you first," Jacques said. "Please, take a few moments, compose yourself. There are drinks and snacks back by the entrance and then we'll move on to the next phase."

I nodded my thanks and retreated back to the entrance, finding the snacks next to the door to the reception area. I started decimating the veggie tray, while trying to process what I had seen. The reflection was me. That was who I was now, and how everyone else saw me. It was a hard idea to come to terms with, but I managed to tape it in place for now. I downed a bottle of juice and felt settled enough to go on.

Back at the station, I was surprised to see them busily cutting fabric.

"Cutting already?" I asked, stepping back into the workspace.

Jacques turned to me and nodded. "Yes, just some simple pieces for now. It's cheap fabric, but we'll pin it to you and see how it moves with you and how you move in it. Titans started teaching us how to deal with fur, but feathers are another challenge entirely."

"I'm sure they will be challenging. Hell, they're challenging for me already."

"Well, we'll do our best to figure it out together. We're going to get quite touchy with all this."

"Yeah that's a given. I hope I'm ready for it."

I sat down and watched them work. Soon enough they had me back in front of the mirrors, wrapping fabric around my waist, both above and below the tail. They pinned panels to the fabric belt and formed a rough pair of shorts. I mainly closed my eyes and tried to think of other things, not used to having people touching me down there.

"So, have you been trying anything on since you changed? How can you handle connectors? Belts, buttons, snaps, zippers and so forth?" Jacques asked.

I wiggled my fingers. "Buttons are right out. I'm not even trying them yet. I might handle belts if they're big enough. Zippers I might get. Velcro might be easiest." I saw him wince and shrugged. "Dexterity isn't my forte any more after all. Stretchy stuff might work best in the end."

"True, but we'll try to avoid going all the way down to velcro if we can help it. Or maybe use it sparingly."

They had me test my range of movement, testing how far I could reach back, how far my tail could comfortably lift and other motions. My wings were constantly in the way, but I could somewhat get to my tail, enough to give them more ideas.

After an hour or so of having various fabrics wrapped around me, and fitted around my legs, Jacques waved his assistants away and motioned for me to take a seat. I could see his head was buzzing with ideas.

"Challenging. Very challenging. Much more challenging than the Titans," he said, sitting across from me. He spun a pencil crayon between his fingers.

"Thanks... I think?"

He grinned, "You're very welcome. This is career building. First, the easy part, the tops. That isn't too bad. The main challenge is that your wings limit how far they can go down, and we don't want to mess up the flow of your feathers. Thankfully, there is just enough of a gap between your arms and wings that we can loop something in between and that should give you proper coverage and support.

"In any case, a surprising number of existing options will work fine for you. From simple tube tops, to short blouses, even t-shirts. The challenge is making sure you can take them off and put them on easily, especially with the feathers on your biceps; but that part should be trivial to work out."

"That's good. Just remember, I don't want to draw too much attention to these," I said cupping my breasts. Most of the time I didn't think about them, until I suddenly did.

The designer waved his hand dismissively. "We can do that, we can do both, so you have options. This is you now, what you want now may be different from what you want next week."

I took a breath, ready to argue against him, but stopped myself. He was volunteering his time and expertise to help us, and fighting over how he showed my breasts felt like a waste of time. "What about down below? The pants? That's the important part right?"

He nodded and studied me pensively. "It is, and it is the real challenge. Multiple challenges even. The main one is figuring out how to fit them to you. Pants hang off of your hips, but your natural stance is with that lean forward, and your tail is in the way. We need to come up with a design loose enough for you to put on and off easily, but tight enough to not interfere in flight. And the fabric, we need something durable, but also something that doesn't interfere. And finally, the pockets; pockets that can hold wallets and phones without slipping out, but which you can reach in with your talons." Jacques shook his head.

"We're also starting to think of other things, like underwear of course, but until your biology is more fully understood, that aspect may be kept simple for now.

"So yeah, lots of challenges."

I nodded at him, trying to seem like I was smiling encouragingly. "Sounds like fun. What does that mean for me right now?"

He smiled. "For you? Nothing. In fact, you're free to go for now. We have enough to keep us busy the rest of the afternoon. So go get some lunch and do whatever else you want to do, and we'll give you a call later to try some things out."

I stood up, "You sure? I don't mind staying if it would help."

He made a shooing motion. "Go, please. If you stay we'll get more ideas and we'll never finish."

"Right, good luck then. I'm looking forward to seeing what you come up with. And thanks. Merci Beaucoup."

He grinned and shooed at me again. I waved at the assistants and some of the others in the tent and headed out.

I took a moment to get my bearings, and figure out what to do next. Lunch felt like a good idea, but not at the J. I adjusted the fannypack I used for my necessities, and took off, following the street and trying to decide what appealed to me. The rumour mill was saying the cash registers were turning on tomorrow, so today was a good day to take advantage of a final free meal.

I spotted a tavern with the lights on a few blocks away from the big box area. The parking lot was deserted, but that meant nothing now. The place was a classic western themed tavern. A pair of griffons were playing pool at one end. The rest of the space was filled with tables and benches, spaced wider than usual to give more wing room. Country music twanged quietly in the background.

"Sit wherever you want," the lone waitress said, rushing past me with a tray of food for one of the few occupied tables. I picked a high top table, with my back to the wall, and soon enough I had a menu and a glass of water.

The meal was excellent, and the place was quiet enough that I didn't feel bad lingering over my drinks. While eating, and after eating, I was trying to decipher the latest mandates from Ottawa and Edmonton for griffons, with little success. The instructions were ambiguous when they weren't outright wrong, the weblinks only worked half the time at best, and the requirements they were asking for seemed to change every time I refreshed the few pages that did work. I gave up long before my phone did.

"From the country that brought you ArriveCan" I grumbled, putting my phone away and leaving a good tip on the table. I waved to the waiter and headed outside, pondering my next move. I didn't feel like going back to the J just yet, so I decided to walk a bit, heading towards the big box stores.

On a lark, I wandered into a Dollar General. A clerk was at the register watching videos on their phone. "Help yourself," she called out. "I know there's not much left, but we're restocking tomorrow."

"Tomorrow when you start charging again," I noted.

"Not my call one way or another,"

"It's gonna happen sooner or later. I don't care either way. Enjoy your videos."

I grabbed a basket and did a quick glance around. The shelves were pretty bare and surprisingly clean. I peeked down each aisle in turn, and noticed one of the fuller sections was the health and beauty section. I had never realized how many varieties of combs and brushes there were, and this store seemed to have all of them.

The session on feather care and preening came to mind as I examined the selection. I tried a few combs and brushes to see how they handled the feathers and fur and liked what I felt. I gathered up almost one of each type I could find, intending to experiment later in more comfortable settings.

"Got any bags?" I asked, heading back to the front.

The clerk pulled a bag off the wall and laid it on the counter. I filled it up and replaced the basket. "Thanks. Good luck tomorrow,"

"Sure, sure...."

I chuckled and left the store. I was close enough to Paul's trailer that I hugged the bag and took off. I set up on their deck and spent the next while practicing my preening. The eagle expert that morning had stressed how important it was to get to the skin level and brush out. Something about our sweat was important for keeping the feathers in good condition. I had no idea what it meant, but after some deep combing, I felt a difference.

Jacques messaged me soon after five, asking me to return. I sent a response and cleaned up my brushes. I tossed them into the trailer on my pile of stuff, and took off.

Jacques and his aides looked exhausted as I walked into the studio, but they seemed proud of their work. There was a surprisingly big pile of clothing on their worktable.

"You guys have been busy," I noted, unclipping my fanny pack and setting it on the end of the table.

"Thank you, with such good inspiration, it was hard to stop. But I believe we have some workable clothes for you now." Jacques went to the first pile and lifted up a bundle of red fabric. "Please, let's see how these fit."

The red fabric turned out to be a griffon style t-shirt. I took it and made sure it faced the right direction before pulling it over my head. The short sleeves were loose enough to get my arms through, and the fabric had enough stretchiness to get over my bust and pull in under my breasts. It was tight but not uncomfortably tight, with the bottom of the shirt ending midchest so it could get between my arms and wings around my back. I began to stretch and twist to get a feel for how it moved against my feathers and fur.

"This is one of our simple designs, but probably one you'll use the most. How does it feel?" Jacques asked, watching me carefully.

I carefully tugged at the bottom hem a bit and straightened up. "It feels... good," I said after a moment of consideration. "It squeezes my breasts, something I never thought I would say, but it feels comfortable enough. Enough tightness that I don't feel like it would be flapping in the air, and it has good coverage."

I carefully pulled it off and we started going through the rest of the tops they had made. The designs were similar, mostly pullovers of some sort, some with sleeves and some without. I couldn't tell the difference most of the time, but some obviously lifted my chest while others squeezed and pressed down on my breasts. I wasn't sure how I felt about the ones that were more uplifting, but I tried not to dismiss them right away.

All in all, when the top pile was exhausted, I deemed most of them acceptable. I didn't think I'd wear some of them normally myself, but other griffons might appreciate the style and feel better than I.

Jacques moved over to the second pile and held up a pair of dark khaki shorts. "These are trickier but we'll see how they work. They have a flexible waist, and should snug up under your tail."

I took the shorts from him and stepped into them, pulling them up. They were loose enough not to pull my fur too much. The waist band had hooks to hold it in place instead of a button. I made sure it was snug up under my tail, and started walking around.

"It's holding well so far," I said. "I might be more comfortable with a belt, but it's holding well so far."

"Good. Try the pockets."

I went to the table and unzipped my pack. I pulled out my wallet and felt for the pockets. I slid it in easily enough, and with a bit of difficulty, pulled it back out. I repeated the tests with my car keys.

"They feel workable," I said, leaving the wallet in a pocket and walking around more. Wearing clothes felt strange after going naked for the past few days, but it also felt better in some ways.

"Well, there is one more thing to try to be sure we got things right. Care to take a step outside?" Jacques suggested, indicating the front of the tent.

I almost broke into a run before I stopped myself. I went back to the table and grabbed the t-shirt as well, pulling it on. Killing two sets of clothes with one flight seemed like a good idea.

Outside, I took my time adjusting things to make sure it felt as comfortable as possible. I spread my wings out wide and flexed them, testing how the shirt moved with them.

"I shouldn't be long," I said, feeling ready.

Julie flashed me a thumbs up, and I crouched. A few moments later, I was in the air, climbing slowly and trying to be hyper aware of my movements and how they affected the shorts and shirt. The fabric fluttered as I climbed, but it wasn't as distracting as flying with bags was.

Once I got to a decent gliding level, I stretched my wings and checked myself. The shirt held its position surprisingly well, with a little bit of bunching from my muscles edging it forward. The pants felt a little looser than I was comfortable with, the waist not as tight as I wanted, but they also seemed to be staying in place as well. I checked the pockets and decided they were tight enough to hold the important stuff.

I did a few loops then came down for a landing, jogging a bit to kill my momentum. I checked the clothes and nodded approvingly. "Great job. They're practically perfect," I said, rejoining the designer. "The waist could be a bit tighter I think. It isn't sliding, but it feels on the verge of sliding. The pockets feel right."

"Great, let's try a few more we came up with and go from there," Jacques said, leading me back inside.

The rest of the available shorts were of similar styles, but with different fabric choices and other minor changes. I found most of them acceptable with some suggestions that might feel better. We wrapped up within the hour, and I noticed Julie had set aside a pile near my fanny pack.

"Thank you for your help," Jacques said as we were wrapping up. "We're supposed to pick someone new each day, so this is technically it for us, but we may bend the rules a bit for you since you plan on leaving soon. You were a wonderful model for us, and you've helped set the baseline for griffon fashion going forward."

"No problem, I'm glad we found some solutions. In any case, you did all the work; I could barely replace a button before I changed."

"We know you're planning on leaving as soon as you can, so we want you to have these," Julie said, presenting the pile. "It isn't much but they seemed to be the best fits, and should help you get settled when you leave."

I took them and wowed softly. "Thank you again."

"They should be durable enough to stand up to a regular washer cycle. You may want to use low temperature drying for the tops, and you'll probably have to figure out how to iron it all. These are handmade so they don't have all the permapress chemicals and other tricks you're probably used to from the mass produced stuff,," Nick suggested.

"Yeah, I'm pretty much limited to hand made artisanal clothing from now on. Though a few thousand of us should get some automation done eventually."

I picked a pair of shorts from the pile and pulled them on. "Going to feel a bit strange to be properly covered again. But it makes me feel... well normal again too."

"It was our pleasure. I hope to see you again before you leave; you were a wonderful subject to work with."

"The week's still early. Thank you." I waved a wing to them a final time and left the designer tent. I did a quick flight hop over to my car. Most of the clothes I left in my trunk, but I pulled on the t-shirt top as well and loaded my pockets.

The trailer was brightly lit as I dropped down to their deck. Paul was sideways on the couch, watching TV while Angie was preparing stirfry in the kitchen.

"Hey guys, sorry I'm late. The designers were busy today," I said, stepping in and stopping at the entrance.

"No problem, we were just about to text you. Wow, you're looking hot Simon. Those actually fit?" Angie asked.

"They do. The shorts could be a hair tighter, but they're working well. Didn't have to pull them up at all, flying from the J to here."

I pulled off the t-shirt top carefully. "This on the other hand, is going to take some getting used to."

Angie laughed, "Yeah, you guys never really figured out breasts. It looked good on you though. I'm sure you'll be used to it eventually."

I took a seat on the other end of the couch and nodded to Paul. "Thanks for the fanny pack idea this morning. It works great, even if I have pockets now."

"No problem. Glad I could snag a few before most people clued in. Looks like you had a productive day."

I leaned back and snagged the bag of brushes I'd collected and pulled out a few. "Yeah. I got more done than I expected. Hopefully it can spread to all of us quickly now that the basics are worked out."

"That would be nice. Paul, can you set the table please? Dinner's just about ready."

Wednesday, September 27

Wednesday brought about one of the surest signs that things were getting back to normal. The cashiers started manning the registers again. Since we were never knocked offline, and our body-plan was still mostly human normal (as opposed to what the Titans became), the powers that be decided we had freeloaded long enough.

Wednesday was also the day I started thinking about how I would get home. Word was, quarantine would be released first thing Sunday morning, and I wanted to be gone before noon. There supposedly was going to be some buses to take people to Calgary and beyond, but I hoped to find a more direct route. Which led me to activating my 'Phone a friend' lifeline Wednesday evening.

"Hey Simon, how's it going?" Rob asked, answering the call.

"Going well, things are coming together. Am I interrupting anything?"

"Not at all, we just wrapped up dinner."

"Good, is Juanita there? I want to talk to both of you."

The camera view shifted as Rob tilted the tablet to show his wife. She waved back. "Hi Simon, I'm right here. What's on your mind?"

"Home is on my mind. I'm getting anxious to be in my own nest, to stop living on a stranger's couch."

She nodded, "That's understandable. You've got what? Three more days of quarantine?"

"And counting. Which is why I'm calling. I've got a big ask for the two of you."

The view wiggled as Rob propped the tablet up so I could see both of them. "You want us to come get you?" he asked.

I paused for a moment, not expecting them to get it so quickly. "Uhm, yes. I know it is a huge ask, and please don't feel like you have to. But, well I guess I'm also feeling a bit greedy; when I leave I don't want to come back any time soon, which means bringing my car back too.... You still have the minivan right? I'll cover all your costs of course," the words tumbled out in a rush, all my carefully prepared outlines jumbling together.

Rob and Juanita exchanged glances. "Yes, we still have the van. And we're honored to be your first? choice to ask. We were first, right?"

"Of course you were!"

Juanita elbowed her husband. "Stop torturing him, Rob. Of course we'll come get you.What do we need?"

"Space is the main thing. I need room in the van to squeeze in, so take out the backseats and hopefully it will be enough room."

"We can do that. And bring some blankets to give you some padding. Anything else you can think of?" Juanita asked.

I shook my head, "Not really. Everything else will be in my car. Though we should probably plan on taking it slower. I won't be belted down and I'm not sure how long I can stay prone like that."

"Sure, that shouldn't be a problem. We should probably plan on multiple days, layover in Hat, just in case traffic or other things delay your trip," Rob suggested.

"Good idea. What else do we need?"

We planned and chatted a bit longer until Angie and Paul came home from work. Then I signed off to help prepare our own dinner.

Thursday, September 28

I hung outside a tent with a half dozen other griffons, waiting for my appointment. The tent was about medium sized with a sign saying it was a doctor's office. The American's were trying to learn all they could about how we worked now, and the latest wrinkle for Canucks like me was the need for a physical to prove we were 'healthy'. I wasn't sure how anyone could decide that yet, but that's what the bureaucrats wanted. Thankfully it wasn't hard to book an appointment to get a checkup.

A nurse came out and looked over the waiting griffons. "Simon? Simon Farrel?" she called out.

I waved my wing and headed over. "Here."

"Come this way please," she said, leading me into the tent.

Inside, it was divided into four identical exam areas. I was pointed to the third one, where a couple of lab-coated people were waiting.

"Good afternoon, Mr Farrel. I'm Doctor MacKay and this is Nurse Campbell. How are you doing?" the woman asked.

"Well enough I guess. You can just call me Simon."

"Good to hear. Hopefully things will continue to go well for you. What we want to do today is just take some measurements. Nothing too intrusive beyond a blood test, just some basic stats to try and figure out what the griffon baseline is, and how you've changed from what you were before. Are you fine with that?"

I shrugged and nodded, "Sure, I've got nothing else to do, and I've already been measured once. If it might help, I'll do it. Plus I think I need this to go home anyway, unless they change their minds again."

The doctor smiled and handed over a clipboard. "Great, we'll start in a minute. First can you confirm this is the information you provided and it is correct?"

I skimmed over the printout and nodded, recognizing the values I'd filled out on the website when I signed up. I scrawled my signature at the indicated spot. "Some of those values are guesswork; I've never really had a good head for sizes."

"That's fine, we're mainly looking to get a feel for how all this has changed all of you. The specifics are secondary," the doctor said. "Now, would you mind stepping on the scale and we'll get started?"

The scale was an old school balance scale, with the weights the doctor slid along a scale to balance it. She seemed to have an idea of what our normal weights were, as she quickly zeroed in on my new size.

"129 pounds? Wow!" I exclaimed. "Is that normal? I thought I lost a lot, but man, that is A LOT."

"Yeah, the griffon normal seems to be between 120 and 140. It probably helps you fly, but really that's still a mystery. You're still almost three times heavier than the heaviest flying birds, but you clearly can fly."

The doctor motioned for me to step into the centre of the space and to spread my arms and wings out. There was just enough room for me to fully extend my wings as they started taking measurements.

"Yeah, flying's probably the one good thing to come out of all this. If you wanted my sizes, you should talk to Jacques at the fashion designer tent. His crew measured me the other day."

"Handy to know, but we'll do our own. How have you felt since the change?"

I shrugged and considered my answer. "Slowly improving I guess. It's a lot to get used to, and I'm both scared to leave and anxious to get home. Keeping busy is helping."

She made a few more notes while the nurse took my measurements. After the thorough session with the fashion designers, this was nothing for me.

"Height and wingspan seems well within normal," the nurse confirmed. "There are some weights over there. Could you try picking them up one a a time, and let us know when they are too heavy? Don't over exert yourself, just find the weights you feel most comfortable with."

I shook my wings back into their resting state and examined the weights. Instead of having their weights marked, they were lettered, clearly as a way to obfuscate the actual amounts. I tried the first few and could lift them easily. It wasn't until I was midway down the row that they got heavy enough to make me grunt and struggle a bit. They stopped me at that point.

"How'd I do?" I asked, rubbing my arms. The last few weights had strained me more than I cared to admit.

"Very well. You're well within the normals we've been recording for other griffons," Doctor MacKay said.

"And how does that compare to what we were before? I don't think I've noticed any difference, but I haven't really exerted myself much."

"Strength-wise, you seem to be similar to humans. Your arm strength at least seems to match up well."

"Damn, so no Titan super strength. Oh well." I smirked a bit.

"Yeah, that's to be expected. You don't have the build like they do. Of course we haven't really figured out how to measure your wing strength yet too, and that may be similar.

"We'd like to take a blood sample next. Do you have an arm preference?"

I shook my head and turned slightly so Nurse Campbell could access my left arm. He expertly lifted the feathers on my bicep and cleared a path down to the smoky skin beneath. I didn't even feel the needle slide in, and a few moments later he was done.

"And that is all we need from you. We do want to do some senses tests eventually, but I'm afraid we haven't quite worked out how best to do them with you guys yet, so you get a pass on those."

"Thanks Doc." I smoothed my feathers back down, then reached into my pocket. Actually having pockets again was great, even if using them with my talons was still awkward as hell. I carefully pulled out a folded up sheet I had printed this morning. It only tore in a couple of places. "Could you send your findings to this site? Ottawa's trying to sort out how to handle us, and I supposedly will need this filled in to get home."

The nurse took the sheet and unfolded it, giving it a quick look over before passing it over to the doctor. She added it to the notes on the clipboard. "Of course; you're not the first Canuck we've been checking out. We're trying to prioritize you guys to help you out. If you need anything else, or feel anything strange, well stranger than you have been feeling, please, let us know right away."

"Thanks, I appreciate it. Hopefully some good can come from all this." I gave them a quick wave and left.

Once outside, I wandered back to the J, unsure what to do next. The truckstop and the camp were constantly busy now, with an even mix of humans and griffons and enough Titans to spice things up. There were a few hundred Titans up now, mostly volunteers seeking to help with the adjustment period. I suspected many of them were just looking for an excuse to go somewhere after being cooped up for half a year.

I checked the camp schedule on my phone, but didn't see anything particularly interesting. So I decided to take the rest of the afternoon off. I took off and started flying with no destination in mind, but staying relatively close to town. That I could climb hundreds of feet into the air and not think twice about it was still strange, but the freedom was exhilarating enough that I didn't think twice about it. I hoped I would never lose the thrill it gave me.

Friday night, September 29

On Friday night, I was at the J later than usual; I was busy trying on a few more outfits that Jacques and his team had worked out. He had brought in a few more griffons for variety, but for whatever reason he seemed to like working with me. His shorts and pants designs were getting better with each iteration, as we worked out how tight the waist could be and how best to tighten them up. I added a few more pairs to my collection to go home with.

One adaptation that was spreading like wildfire was a wristband holder for phones. It let us use our phones in midair without risking dropping them. I'd just gotten a second version of it, that came with a stylus attached with a wire.

So, with the sun ducking behind the mountains to the west, and the night chill settling in, I took off for my commute back to Paul's trailer. I circled around a bit, listening to other griffons shout to friends. I could hear the buzz of numerous drones over the camp; the army had made it clear we were to not "play tag" with them, but some of the younger ones still did. So far only a few had their wrists slapped for interfering with the drones, and I suspected stricter punishments might be coming soon.

I waved at a few of the closer quad drones over the base and broke my circle, heading to town. The shortest route most of us took crossed the large empty field. Usually it was just the brown of dry dead grass, but this time a splash of colour caught my eye. I looked closer, and realized there were two Titans in the middle of the field, out of sight from any of the roads, but in clear view of any griffons overhead, not that they seemed to care. They were side by side, tails lifted as they bumped. Their upper bodies were twisted to hug and kiss each other, in a very public display of affection. One reached into the pouch of the other and pulled out a slick orb, maybe the size of a softball. They each kissed it before one trotted around to the rear of the other. I realized what was going on and looked away quickly, blushing deeply. I glanced around and could see others still watching curiously, but I had seen plenty.

Week 2

Saturday, September 30

On Saturday, I woke early, realizing the next phase of my life was about to start. Quarantine wasn't lifting until Sunday morning, but this was basically the one week anniversary; it was time to leave the Fort and get home. I wanted to have one good cleaning before leaving, so I had booked a swimming session at the gym on campus. I was doubtful about how we could handle the water, but the grapevine said pools and swimming in general was great. The state campus had a gym with a pool and showers that was open to any griffon as long as you made a reservation.

The pool building was easy enough to find, though its public entrance was a bit trickier. A bored griffon was at the desk outside, checking the reservations. The air itself was hot and humid enough to drink.

"Good morning," she greeted me. "Lockers are in the change rooms to your left as you go in. Go into whichever ones you are comfortable with. Have you gone swimming before?" The 'since you changed' was implied.

"First time," I verified.

"Well, the main thing to remember is to relax and let it come naturally. We float well, even fully waterlogged. No diving, no running, no flying leaps, and no horseplay."

I'd flown over naked since I didn't want to need to worry much about keeping track of things. So I skipped the changing rooms and went right to the pool. The pool was in a hot, humid room. It was a large pool with lanes for racing and a semi-closed off diving section. They used salt water instead of chlorinated water, so it smelled a bit like the ocean. A dozen other early risers were in the water. Most floated on their bellies or backs, wings usually stretched out. Some were at the far end, experimenting with swimming methods. A couple of griffons watched over everyone from tall chairs, life guards for the random swimmers. They had air horns to catch people's attention as needed.

I waved to a few swimmers and sat on the edge of the shallow end of the pool. I dipped my feet and legs into the water, feeling them get heavier as the fur got soaked. I leaned forward and splashed the water with my taloned hands. The water was warm and felt wonderful. After a moment I leaned further forward and pushed off the pool wall, shooting myself into the water on my belly. I ducked my head, and held my breath, feeling my nares tighten up, and my inner eyelids close. I spread my wings a little over the top of the water and just relaxed, letting the liquid soak down to my skin. It was my first good soak since before I changed.

I spent an hour in the water, flipping over occasionally and trying to swim without much success. My soaked fur tended to pull my legs and chest down, while my feathery parts were more buoyant. That let me 'tread' water without much actual treading when I wanted to.

Eventually, I paddled back to a ladder and hauled myself out of the water. I took a few steps from the edge and started to shake, spreading my wings out and my tail feathers to get some of the water off. For my furry parts, I started at the top and started squeegeeing downward, pushing out enough of the water to feel like I wasn't carrying half the pool with me. I went to the men's changing room where there were communal showers to rinse off with clean water and lots of towels.

At that point, I really regretted not having my brushes. Our new bodies were a lot higher maintenance now, especially the feathered parts. Our dream download gave us the basic instincts for preening, but there were a lot of additional aspects that we had to figure out as we went. At first, bird experts were baffled by the lack of a preen gland at our tails (to most of our reliefs once we learned what it was needed for). It took a couple of days for them to figure out we had specialized sweat glands that served a similar purpose under both our fur and feathers. We often found ourselves doing feather care with our talons when we weren't doing anything else. To help with the preening, I'd been picking up various types of brushes, and narrowed it down to a set of five that I really liked using. A set of five that were back with the rest of my stuff at Paul's place.

After a thorough shower, I squeezed as much water out of my fur as I could. I then spent time in front of the mirror, combing out my feathers with my talons, focusing especially on my flight and tail feathers. It took a long time, but I felt flightworthy enough to get back across town and left. While I knew it would take a lot of brushing and combing to feel right again, the swim had been more than worth it; I felt properly clean for the first time all week.

I spent the rest of the afternoon puttering online, preening, packing, and picking out what to wear tomorrow. Jacques' team had left me with a surprising amount of choices, some I was still uncertain about, but all perfectly wearable. I settled on what was basically a red blouse that closed with velcro, and black shorts with a built in belt. Tomorrow would be the first time I'd be wearing clothes full time again, and the idea felt a bit strange. It was a bit scary how fast my accepted norms had changed, and would hopefully change back when I got home.

Late in the afternoon, Rob called to check in. I could see a hotel room behind him, and Jaunita unpacking to the side.

"Hey there, we just checked in in Medicine Hat. Everything looking good for tomorrow?" he asked.

"Yeah, it's all good. Quarantine ends at 0800 tomorrow, and if they don't end it, there will probably be a riot. How's the Hat?"

"Hopping. Lots of media types and curious onlookers. Glad we booked our rooms early. We've got this one for tonight and tomorrow, and we confirmed yours for tomorrow. Everywhere else is booked solid."

"What's the vibe up there?" I asked nervously. For the most part the Titans were accepted where they went, but there were some stories about some bad reactions outside of their territory. I tried not to think of what it might mean for me. One of the worries nagging at the back of my mind was the possibility of haters chasing me away from my home.

"I'd say curious mainly. And eager. There's a lot of families here waiting for a reunion," Juanita chimed in.

"Right, thanks again guys, for coming to get me, and for everything. I really appreciate it."

"Any time. You got any plans for your last night at Fort Parker?" Rob asked.

"We're having a party out at the J. The last time we'll be together before we scatter. Don't worry, I won't drink too much."

"I'm surprised you're drinking at all," Rob laughed. "That might be the biggest change of all."

I chuckled as well. "True, I hadn't thought of that. Seems I developed a bit of a beer taste out of this. But it's just American beer so it's basically water right?"

"Sure it is," Rob smirked. "Have fun, and we'll see you tomorrow."

Shortly after five, I locked up the trailer and took off. I climbed high enough to find the hot thermals over the town and started gliding, enjoying the wind through my fur and feathers. On the edge of town I could see an aerial traffic jam forming near the J as people arrived. The truck stop was open, and the army camp was busy, so our party was being held in the field on the other side of the highway.

I waved to some familiar feathers on my way down, and landed at the edge of the party. It took a few minutes of waving and greetings before I could get to the refreshment table and snag a slice of pizza and a cup of pop. There were a few hundred of us here, mostly griffons, but a good number of humans, mostly from the encampment, and even many of the Titans that had come up for support.

While I was mingling, I spotted some movement at a pickup truck that held the music system for our party. Alex had hopped onto the flatbed, and was helping his wife climb up. They picked up a mic, and I pressed my ears back in anticipation. A squeal of feedback echoed across the field, making feline and equine ears press down in pain. Judy made a few adjustments to the equipment, and Alex was able to try again.

"Sorry about that, everyone. For those who may not be aware, I'm Alex Lewiston and this is my wife, Judy. We are the owners of the Flying J and the hosts of this little shindig."

He sat on the side of the truck bed, letting his tail feathers hang low over the other side. "In some ways, it's hard to believe it's only been one week. But what a week it has been. Our lives have been completely flipped upside down, and we have no idea what's ahead of us. Not just here in Fort Parker, but up in Elkwater, over in Battlecreek and many more places around here. Strangers became friends, irrevocably bound by a common event.

"But, life goes on, and we're about to take the next step forward. Quarantine ends in the morning, and we'll be able to scatter, to leave this nest we've created. For those that were stranded here, who did not come from here, it's the time to finally go home, to start picking up the pieces of your lives and figuring out where to go next. For those that live here, it isn't as big a deal, but it does mean our area will be a little less bright without those who are leaving.

"But enough of that. We're here to celebrate, celebrate one week in these new bodies. So go have fun everyone, and for those who are leaving us in the days and weeks to come, remember, you always have friends here."

He put the mic down as the crowd cheered. Judy started the music up again while he hopped off the truck. He had just enough time to lift her back to the ground before they were swarmed by cheerful party goers.

I spent the rest of the evening mingling. Despite my comments to Rob, I kept my drinks on the nonalcoholic side, figuring I didn't want to start a road trip hungover. I made sure to speak to as many of the camp folk as I could. While I would still be speaking to them virtually for a long while yet, this was probably the last in-person time I'd see many of them.

It turned out the sound system was also a karaoke system. It also turned out that while we were part bird, songbirds we were not. Still, many of the partygoers were sloshed enough by then to not care how they sounded. The Titans on the other hoof, were excellent singers, with an incredible range and depth of sound powered by strong sets of lungs. They often brought the party to a stop while they belted out old favorites.

By midnight, things were wrapping up. I tracked down Angie and Paul and we began to wander our way home. I had no idea how Paul could possibly fly with how tipsy he was, but Angie and I somehow managed to coax him along without too many incidents.

Sunday, October 1

I woke up early, just before eight, too wired to sleep any more. I rolled off the foldout couch that had been my bed for most of the week and carefully folded it back up, hoping not to wake my hosts. I flicked the TV on to CNN to make sure there were no last minute wrinkles in our plans. They had a few reporters on I-94 where the quarantine barricade was set up, and it seemed the plans were still a go. Families eager to be reunited had camped out overnight, waiting for the clearance.

By the time I had a cup of coffee and a plate of toast, the highway was reopened. Families reunited in the median, while the first few cars were allowed through. Like down in Colorado, there would still be a border around the region, so people coming and going could be tracked just in case something happened again, but otherwise everyone was free to enter and leave at will.

"Ugh, where am I and how did I get here?" Paul grumbled, dragging his wings and leaning against the wall.

"You're home, and honestly, I have no idea how. I was completely sober and I still can't figure out how you stayed in the air." I snagged a bottle of water and passed it over to him.

He gulped the water down and managed to pull his wings up. He stumbled over to the couch and looked at the TV. "So it's happening? We're allowed to leave again?"

I offered him a cup of coffee chaser and sat at the table to munch on my own breakfast. "Looks like it. I told my friends to take their time; we're only going to the Hat today, so no need to rush."

"So this is it? Time for you to leave?" Angie asked sleepily. She yawned again and fetched her own cup of coffee. "We're gonna miss you."

"Gonna miss you guys too. Thanks for letting me crash. If you're ever up north, give me a shout; you're welcome to crash at my place anytime."

We chatted a bit longer while we ate breakfast and half-watched the news. With the last of my coffee long gone, I excused myself to get ready.

In a slightly too small bathroom, I brushed my beak and washed up. I did a quick bit of preening to get my bed-head feathers back into place, and finished packing up my toiletry bag. I pulled on my top and adjusted it. The 'blouse' style was a bit more girly than I liked, but it felt nice to wear today, even if I found it tended to lift and accentuate my breasts a bit more than I preferred.

The shorts were easier to handle, just step in and pull up so it was snug to the underside of my tail. I hooked the button-hook part of the pants, then tugged the belt tighter. The movements reminded me of how panicked Paul and I had been to get our belts undone just a week ago. It felt like it had happened to someone else. Now, I handled my trimmed talons without a second thought. Some motions, like buttoning, were basically impossible or at least very difficult, but I no longer worried about stabbing things by mistake. Not that wayward stabbings still didn't happen, as the three keyboards in my trunk could attest to.

I strapped my phone to my wrist and noted Rob had sent a message saying they'd just cleared the quarantine line. I grabbed my toiletries and returned to the living room.

"So this is it?" Angie asked as I zipped up my bag. It was a bit heavier than I liked to carry, but not too bad for a short lift across town.

"This is it," I confirmed, straightening up. I double hugged her, arms and wings engulfing her. I nuzzled her beak briefly. "Thanks for your hospitality. I really really appreciated it. I'd probably have gone crazy if I had to stay in the birdcage all week."

"You're welcome back any time," she said, sniffing and blinking quickly, the feathers around her eyes getting damp.

I could feel my own face feathers getting moist as I switched to Paul. "Change bros forever?" I said in mid hug.

"Forever indeed. Thanks for helping me." We pressed wings briefly and broke the hug.

I grabbed my bag and we stepped outside. Designers had some chestpacks that could fit securely over our arm shoulders to help us carry stuff on our fronts, but I was still going with my familiar laptop bag for now. I figured I'd gotten a lot of advantages already from working with Jacques, and I didn't want to seem greedy.

"Sure we can't talk you into moving down here?" Paul asked.

"You never know. But for now, I've gotta go home, sleep in my own nest for a change. Sure you guys don't want to see me off at the J?"

"Our shifts start at Noon. While they wouldn't mind if we were late, the J is going to be a zoo. Best to cut back on the chaos and just do our goodbyes now," Angie said.

I gave them both a final beak kiss, and jumped into the air from their porch. Flying while dressed was a bit awkward, but not too bad. The clothes were designed to be tight enough to not interfere with the airflow much, nor to interfere with my wing and tail movements. Carrying my pack caused more drag than the clothes did.

As I approached the truckstop, I could see the border station. Traffic was beginning to back up at both the US and Canadian customs. It was back to business as normal for human traffic across the border. For griffons, there was an "Open skies" agreement in effect for the region; we could fly across the border freely. But if we were intending to cross for any significant amount of time, we were expected to check in at the appropriate border station.

I landed next to my car and checked Rob's location. They were still half an hour out, not counting border time. So I took the time to clean up, repacking my suitcase and kitbags. I paused a moment, holding my old shoe up to my paw, amazed that my foot used to be able to fit in there.

With everything tucked away in bags in my trunk, I locked up again and looked at the car. It was dusty from sitting for a week, but looked like it always had. I snapped some pictures of the state of the vehicle. I doubted my insurance would cover "Act of transformative biology", but at least it would be a baseline in case something happened on the road with Rob driving.

"Want us to give it a quick rinse off, guv'nor?" a familiar voice in a horrible British accent asked. Alex and a couple of the truckstop's workers were nearby, armed with a hose and buckets of soapy water.

"You don't have to do that. It'll just get dirty and dusty again on the road," I protested, but still stepped back to avoid the spray.

"It's no big deal. 'Sides, you're practically family. And we couldn't let you leave in such a mess," Alex countered. He passed the hose off and gave me a hug. "Didn't want you to slip away without saying goodbye either."

"I wouldn't do that," I said, hoping he didn't pick up my lie. I hadn't realized he'd considered me that close of a friend; not with how many stranded folk he had to deal with.

"So what's your plan? I assume you have someone coming?" Alex asked while the other griffons soaped up my car.

"Someones; coworkers slash friends with a minivan," I confirmed. "They should be hitting the customs line any minute now. Figured we'd top up both vehicles here, then head back to the Hat tonight and back to Edmonton tomorrow."

We grabbed dry towels from a cart and started drying the car. "Sounds like you've thought of everything; just what I'd expect of you," Alex said.

"I tried to do so. Didn't help that the rules changed every other time I looked. But we should be relatively smooth sailing."

"Well, you should be all set. Make sure you come in and see us before you leave."

"Of course. Thanks for everything, Alex. Good luck to you and Judy and your little one when they come."

Alex winced a moment and motioned the team to head to another car where someone was busy repacking. I remembered too late how much stress mixed families were under. Mothers who were still human, with a human baby on the way, while the rest of their immediate family were now griffons. I couldn't imagine how they could get through it. Alex and Judy had been rock solid though the event so far, and I really hoped they could hold it together.

On that awkward note, we bid farewell and went our separate ways. I took to the air and climbed up to an easy glide altitude and looked towards the border. I traced the line of cars until I spotted a familiar van. I recognized Rob driving, while Juanita typed on a phone.

My own phone chirped with an incoming message.

Rob: In customs line now. Not sure of ETA. Shouldn't be too long.

I looked back, blinking a few times to refocus, and saw them talking now. I was a little tempted to land next to them and keep them company, but decided to enjoy the air while I could. I typed a message back.

Me: Thanks Neets. Got my eyes on you now. Will meet you at the J.

The message arrived just as I got them back in focus. I could see Juanita's surprised reaction, and they both leaned forward to look to the skies. I waved, but I knew even with my bold plumage, they wouldn't be able to spot me at that distance.

The wait at the border gave me half an hour of peaceful gliding before they were back on the road. I kept tracking them, dropping down lower until they disappeared under the gas pump canopy. I immediately pulled my wings in and finished my drop, scooting under the canopy and landing a few steps away from the pump they stopped at.

"Fill it with regular?" I asked before either could get out of the car.

The tank lid popped open. "Yes please," Rob called, then did a double take.

"Oh my god! Simon?" Jaunita shouted, her door flying open. I just managed to uncap the tank before she tackled me in a hug, pushing me back against the pumps.

"Careful of the wings," I cautioned her, lifting them before they got too pinned. Her arms were around me as best she could manage. "Damn, is it ever good to see you guys. To see some familiar faces, some actual familiar faces."

She let me go and stepped back. "Well, your face isn't all that familiar any more, but you're looking good. How are you doing?"

I shrugged and stepped to the side to make room for Rob, offering a fist to fistbump. "I'm holding together, but I can't wait to get home. Even to just get back on the road again. But there are times when I'm this close to falling apart." I showed my talons almost touching point to point.

"I can't imagine what it's like. For what it's worth, you look incredible. So exotic. All of you. But I guess that's not much solace."

"It's a little, I guess things could be a lot worse. But I would rather this wasn't a thing at all." I looked at my coworker, who seemed to be studying me intently. "You okay there Rob?"

"Yeah, I'm good. You're just... shorter than I expected."

"Well, I do tend to hunch forward a bit, to keep these off the ground," I said, shaking my tail feathers. I straightened up and looked at him, realizing eye level was about chin level to him. We used to be similarly sized, literally able to see eye to eye."I guess I did shrink a bit. I hadn't noticed."

"Well it's not as if you had a good yardstick to compare to. Good to have you back. How are we going to do this?"

I tapped my credit card to activate the pump, and let him handle the rest. "We top off your van and my car. Then we can grab lunch here if you want, or we push back to Hat right away; it's up to you. The food here is good, but maybe you want to get all the driving done now."

The couple looked around the truckstop, with the mix of griffons and humans, then exchanged looks. "I think... I think I'd be more comfortable if we went straight back to Medicine Hat," Juanita said. "No offense, but my weirdness tank is filling fast, and I'm not sure I'm ready for a meal here."

"That's fine. Perfectly understandable," I said. I peeked into the back of the van, verifying they'd removed the backseats. There were a number of blankets there to cover up the seat brackets and provide a bit of comfort. It looked like there would be plenty of room for me to squeeze in, wings and all.

The pump clicked off and Rob hung up the nozzle. "Right, why don't you park the van, while Simon shows me where he's parked and we get his car settled. You said you had to use the bathroom right?"

"Right... I did say that." She looked around again, then got into the van.

I watched her drive to a parking spot near the building, then lead Rob to my car. Once he was filling my car, I went inside to make sure Juanita was okay. I didn't see her in the store area, so I waited near the women's public restroom. When she came out, she seemed even more skittish, glancing into the restaurant. One look made it obvious what was bothering her.

"I didn't think there'd be some of them here too," she whispered.

I knew the two Titans she saw. They were biologists, having a working lunch with two human biologists. Judging by the way one was moving her hands, they were debating how our wings worked.

"Yeah, there's a whole bunch of them up here. Mostly up to give support and stuff, or to check in family that changed. Those two are actual scientists, helping us figure out what the hell we are biologically. They're nice enough folks, but horny as hell and not shy about showing it."

She gave me a strange look, and I could only shrug. I'd been drowning in this strangeness for a week now and barely holding it together. I wasn't surprised that she was feeling overwhelmed after just a bit. It didn't help that due to its central location and the encampment, the Flying J was a nexus for the insanity of the area.

"Let's grab some snacks before we hit the road. I've got to say some good-byes or they'll never let me back," I said, waving to catch Rob's attention as he walked in. His eyes widened as he took in the mix of folks, but he seemed to handle it better. "There's a gym and a couple pokestops in range here too that you might want to tag," I added, knowing Pokemon Go was a good way to distract her.

I left her with her husband and her phone, and did a quick loop around the truckstop, waving to the workers and a few other stranded folk and locals I'd befriended. I didn't find Alex, so I knocked on the office door, finding Judy busy on the computer.

"You hitting the road, Simon?" she asked, leaning back in her chair and rubbing her swollen belly.

"I am. Alex said he'd have my wings if I didn't say goodbye."

She smiled, "He's out on the lot, but I'll radio him in."

"Thanks. And thanks for everything you did. Both during the Change and after. You really made us feel at home when we couldn't go back."

"It was the right thing to do. Drive safely, and keep in touch," she said after making a quick call on the radio.

I hugged her and petted her belly before returning to the store area. I spent a few minutes picking up some travel snacks and grabbing what my rides had picked out. By the time I reached the cashier, I heard someone running from the back.

"Put it under my account, Amanda," Alex called out, I turned and greeted him with a quick hug and beak nuzzle.

"You don't have to do that, you guys have done so much already."

"It's not that much. One last gift for the road," he said. "Sure you're ready to head back to the big city?"

"Sure? Not at all. But I've gotta go home and that's where home is."

"Well, have a safe trip. We'll always be here if you need some familiar beaks."

"Thanks, I know that. I'm sure I'll be back for visits eventually, once travel is easier."

Outside, we went to the vehicles and split up the snacks. I crawled into the back of the van, the first time I'd been in a vehicle since changing. It was tricky, but I managed to get in without feeling too cramped. Juanita looked at my position, and reached over, pulling the front passenger seat forward and tilting it forward so I could lean against the back and more easily talk with her on the road.

"Are you good?" she asked as she got into the driver seat. "I'd say buckle up but..."

"Yeah, we've got a 'health exemption' from seat belt laws for now, or something like that. I'm as ready as I will be."

She waved to Rob from the window and headed out, going slow enough to make sure he followed immediately behind her.

The line to the border was long, starting about a klick from the truckstop. But it moved steadily; the agents clearly were only doing a token check. We mainly travelled in silence, listening to the radio. Once we were a few cars from the agent, I hauled out my passport and the paperwork that linked my old and new selves together.

"Good day, welcome back to Canada," the griffon agent said. She had a vest with her badge and name tag on. "I take it you're doing a pickup?" she asked Juanita while indicating to me.

"Yes, I'm travelling with the car behind me. My husband got the car and I got the bird," Juanita said, handing over her papers. She gasped, realizing what she said. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have said that."

The agent laughed, "It's fine. I haven't heard that one yet. Could you pull forward a bit so I can process you all together?"

She made sure we stopped just past the booth and went back to talk to Rob, collecting some paperwork from him.

"Okay, I just have a few more questions for you, Mr Farell. How long was your visit to the States?"

The return interview was standard, just the usual how long I was over there, was I bringing anything back, and so forth. It only took a couple of minutes before she returned our papers and waved us along.

We rolled along the highway, still travelling in silence. I mainly watched the dry land roll by, occasionally catching movement from Juanita out of the corner of my eye. The third time I noticed it, I realized what she was doing; glancing at her hands on the wheels.

"How are you doing?" I asked. "The Titans have gone six months and counting without changing anyone else; I'm pretty sure we won't change anyone else after a week."

She looked at me, then refocused on the road. "I know that, but my gut doesn't. I thought I wouldn't have a problem coming in here, but now that I'm here, I'm scared."

"It's okay to be scared. I'd probably be similar in your shoes."

"The land around here, it all looks so normal. But something about it, something about this place, turned us into you. How the hell can that happen?"

"That's the two trillion dollar question, of which there's no answer yet." I looked out then back at her. "Still, I'm glad you came. We should be clear in what? Forty minutes?"

"About that, as long as traffic stays like this."

We were quiet for a few more minutes, then she broke the silence. "Were you really watching us? Back at the border?"

I chuckled, "I was. I figure I was about 2k up. Nice thermals at that level."

"And you could see us from all the way up there?"

"Surprisingly easily. I could tell Rob was driving and you were texting," I explained.

"Wow... "

"Very wow. I've got literal eagle eyes now. Between that and the flying, it somewhat makes it worth it."

I waited a moment to see if she had any more questions or comments, but the silence started building again. I decided to go to a common safe subject.

"So how's your hunting been? Any hundos lately?" I asked, knowing PoGo would keep her mind somewhat distracted. .

An hour later we were near the edge of the Change zone. Traffic had thickened once we passed the roads to Elkwater. The highway signs told us we were about twenty klicks from the TCH. New signs in blue with biohazard symbols, warned of the end of the Change zone, and of a nearby checkpoint just outside the estimated Change territory.

The actual checkpoint was a recently paved widening of the highway. Mounties were manning it, checking cars coming and going. Incoming cars seemed to just get a talking to by the officer, and then they were let through. Maybe one in ten cars would turn around and go back. Outgoing cars like us were mostly redirected to another hastily built gravel parking lot where the occupants tended to get a longer conversation.

"Coming in, they're mainly just noting our plates, and making sure we know that we're entering an Event zone and that we enter of our own free will and knowing the risks. Scary stuff; I think it's meant to keep lookie-loos out. No clue what they're doing for outgoing folk," Juanita explained.

We crawled along the highway and soon reached an officer. He looked in. "Good day, ladies. We're asking any vehicle with an affected person to please pull into the lines over there. We just want to ask some questions and make sure you're aware of expectations outside the Zone."

"Sure. My husband is driving Simon's car behind us. He's alone and not affected," Juanita explained.

The officer looked back before answering. "He'll be able to go right through. We're trying to keep the checkpoint flowing, but he can pull over down the road and wait for you. It shouldn't take long."

We pulled into one of the lines in the gravel parking area, and waited. I noted most of the vehicles were larger ones; SUV's, minivans, trucks, UHauls. There were a few sedans and I winced, pitying the pour griffons that squeezed themselves into the smaller cars.

Juanita called Rob and chatted with him while I watched the activity around us. There were four lines of cars, with volunteers at the head of each line. They would speak to people in each vehicle, pass in some papers, and then wave the next one forward. A couple of news crews were at the far side, doing whatever they did. I was thankful they didn't spot me; it felt like half my time in Fort Parker had been spent dodging people with a camera who wanted a shiny griffon for their stories.

After a few minutes, we reached the head of our line. A volunteer in a reflective vest tapped gently on the passenger window. Juanita rolled it down before I could find the button.

"Hello there, My name is Mary. Welcome out of Quarantine. Did you both spend the time in the Zone or just you?"

"Just me," I said. "This is a friend who's helping me get home."

Mary passed in a folder of papers. "Well, welcome home then. I'm sorry for what happened to you and how long this has taken. In that folder is a list of resources we've gathered to help anyone affected. Help centres are set up in Medicine Hat, Calgary and Edmonton, with more being set up as needed. Where is home for you?"

"Up in Edmonton," I said, setting the folder beside me.

"Well, be careful on your way home. Now, there are a few things we want to make clear for people returning home.

"First, we want to remind you that nudity and indecency laws are enforced. The packet contains Amazon and other links to sources of clothing for your changed bodies." Mary paused and took a closer look at me. "Though it looks like you're ahead of the game. Thank you."

I stayed quiet, and smiled a bit inwardly. I'd spent much of my time figuring out what gotchas might be waiting for me when I went home, including flight and nudity rules. As far as nudity and indecency rules went, we could probably easily get away with going topless without too much hassle, and even completely naked if we wanted to push the issue. But I had no intent of being the pusher, so I was happy to comply with the local norms.

"Secondly, flying. There's a lot of work needed to figure out how to handle you guys. But for now, drone rules will more or less apply. The important thing is to not fly near airports or other restricted areas, and try to stay somewhat low if you can. It's not mandatory, but there are some courses that you should probably take to learn the rules of the air."

"Thanks, I've already looked up much of that stuff, but it's good to have it in a handy form," I said, tapping the folder.

"In that case, you're free to go. Good luck and welcome home. Drive safely."

After another hour of heavy but steady traffic later, we pulled into a hotel parking lot, the same place I'd overnighted at the night before I changed. I took a few minutes to stretch all my limbs and to shake out my feathers. My ears twitched constantly, picking up all the traffic noise and general city noises. The parking lot was full and I felt eyes staring at me from all directions. The skies seemed strangely empty, filled with normal birds, insects and a rare drone.

It started to sink in to me just how different I was. When I was among other griffons it was easy to settle into a new normal; we were all figuring things out together. But now I was alone among thousands of people who had things sorted out, carving out a changed life of my own.

I felt a hand on my wing and twitched it away. Rob was pulling his own hand back, like he'd touched a hot stove.

"Sorry," he apologized. "You seemed distracted."

"It's okay. Things are just starting to sink in, become real." I shook my wings a bit to try and settle my feathers and nodded to the entrance. "I better go check in and get my room." I peeked in a mirror and tucked a few feathers back into place, then strode through the automatic doors of the hotel and approached the reception. The lobby was otherwise deserted this early in the afternoon.

The receptionist's eyes widened as I approached her, but she managed to recover her professionalism by the time I got to her. "Hello, welcome to the Holiday Inn Medicine Hat. Do you have a reservation?"

"I do, it's under Simon Farell," I said, providing my updated papers.

"Oh wow," I heard her mumble as she started the check in process. "Right, I see it here now. Oh and welcome back."

"Thank you. I didn't expect to be back so soon, but..." I spread my wings slightly and shrugged.

"Right, understandable. You're our first, but you won't be our last." She paused for a moment, reading a note to refresh her memory. "Right, right... I just wanted to let you know that we are an inclusive hotel; we welcome everyone. While our rooms haven't been adapted to your needs yet, if there is anything we can provide to make your visit more pleasant, please just ask and we'll try to satisfy it within reason."

"Thank you. I'm still figuring out my needs myself. Maybe double the number of towels in the bathroom might help? I probably won't need them, but fur does take a bit more to dry."

"Of course sir, I'll have housekeeping send some up as soon as they can." She did some more typing and slid some paperwork over to sign. She hesitated a moment, but I'd already snagged a pen and scrawled something resembling my signature on the line.

"Wow," I heard her mumble again, then shake her head. "Thank you. You're all set. Your room is on the second floor. There are stairs through the door there, or elevators at the other end of the lobby.... I'm sorry, I didn't even think of it, is the second floor fine with you?"

"It's fine," I confirmed.

She made it through the rest of her script and passed over the key cards.

"All set!" I called out, flashing my keycard as I walked back out to the parking lot. "Pop the trunk please, Rob."

"So I take it there weren't any problems?" Rob asked, hitting the trunk button.

"None at all. But I was her first. I'm in 207."

"We're in 209, they should be connecting rooms." Juanita said.

I grabbed my bag and pillows and did a quick check for anything else before slamming the lid closed. "Well, let's go find out."

The hotel was recently built, so the rooms were pretty standard, but the king sized bed looked divine. The rooms were connecting, but we kept the doors closed for now. As soon as I closed the door, I tossed my gear to one side and flicked on the TV. I quickly stripped off my top and shorts and grabbed my brushes. With a happy sigh, I spread my wings wide and fell forward onto the large bed, feeling relaxed for the first time all week. On top of couch surfing all week, I had been stuck in a foreign land. Canada and America were very similar, but we weren't identical; the quirks of each country, the little differences added up over time. Now that I was back in the land of Tims, the Hip and CBC, I felt like I was home again, even if my actual home was a day and five hundred klicks away.

I idly preened while listening to the news on the TV. Mostly I was relaxing, letting the stress flow out of me. On screen, I recognized reporters at the quarantine checkpoint we'd gone through earlier, picking random feathered folk to interview. I was glad we'd managed to dodge them somehow.

I heard a knock on the connecting door, and my eyes popped open. The knock repeated after a few seconds. "Just a minute!" I called out. I pushed myself up and slid sideways until I was standing again.

I shook my wings and pulled them in as I took the couple steps over to the door. "Sorry guys, I think I dozed off for a moment," I said, opening the door.

"It's-" Rob started to say, before his eyes widened. He quickly turned away before I realized what he was reacting to.

"Sorry!" I shouted,diving back and grabbing my shorts. "Picked up some bad habits over the past week."

"It's okay," Rob said slowly, peeking and looking away again. "I mean, we saw it all back at the truck stop and didn't really think anything of it. But on you... if you're comfortable with it..."

I pulled the top on, keeping my back to the door. "I'm mostly presentable, you can look now," I called out. "As far as comfort goes, it is more comfortable. These tops are hell on my back feathers which are a pain to keep straight to begin with. But it's a price I'll have to get used to anyways. Best to sort it out now. So, as I was saying, I dozed off there. What's up?"

Rob peeked again, then turned back to face me. "Well, it's almost five, and Neets and I figured it's a good time to go for dinner. And we were wondering how you wanted to do it. Did you want to come with us? Get takeout for yourself or room service or what?"

"Now that you mention it, I am feeling peckish. There's lots of places around here I could fly to. Or we could go eat together. I guess it depends on you; how weirded out are you?"

Rob ducked back into his room, and I heard a whispered conversation start up. I focused on the news report to not eavesdrop.

"We're close to our limits, but I think we can handle a meal. What do you feel like?"

"How about East Sides? I'm in the mood for pasta and it's simple enough for me to handle. And it's only a few blocks away from here; we wouldn't even need to take a car. My treat of course,"

Rob glanced back then nodded, "Sure that would be fine."

The restaurant was moderately busy for an early Sunday evening. The waitress didn't even bat an eye at my presence. "Table for three?" she asked, already gathering the menus. "We've got benches on the patio for you if you don't mind eating outside," she suggested.

"It's a good night, We don't mind going outside," Rob said.

"Then this way please."

She flagged a waiter down on the way out, and led us to a table on the patio. Half the tables were occupied, including one table with another griffon. I waved to her in passing. The waiters quickly adjusted our table. The 'bench' for me was actually a wooden crate with a chair pad on top, but it was more comfortable than straddling a chair. We settled down, placed our drink and salad orders, and focused on our menus.

I knew what I wanted, but I kept looking while letting my feline curiosity kick in. My ears twisted a bit to better eavesdrop on the other griffon and her group's conversation. I soon realized she was in university, just stopping for dinner on their way home to Calgary. Like me, she'd been caught on the highway, and had spent the week in Elkwater.

The arrival of the bread, salads and drinks interrupted my eavesdropping.

"I'm sorry, we don't have many options for beaked folk yet," the waitress said as she put my cup of diet Pepsi down. "I could get you a kid's sippy cup if it might help?"

"No need, I've got a straw," I said, taking out a metal straw from my pocket. "It's not so great for hot liquids but perfect for pop. Makes me almost feel normal again." I dropped it into the cup and tucked the end of the straw into the corner of my mouth. Soon I felt a mouthful of the sweet, bubbly liquid in the back of my mouth.

We placed our orders, and had no real choice but to talk while sharing the bread and salads.

"Extra, Extra, EXTRA hot peppers?" Rob asked of my order. "Is that safe?"

"Perfectly safe," I said, popping a piece of bread into my beak. "And it's one of the few ways I have to get a bit of kick from the food."

"What do you mean?" Juanita asked.

I thought about how I wanted to answer her, shoving a big piece of lettuce in my beak to buy time. "Well, stop me if I get too detailed. A lot of us became amateur biologists learning how we work now. But here's how it goes.

"You've already noticed I've got the eagle eyes supervision trait. And the cat hearing is above average as well." I tapped the side of my eye and my ear in turn. I noticed some of the other tables were quieting down and looking my way. The other griffon and her companions seemed especially curious. I raised my voice a bit for the audience.

"Well, we paid for it with our other senses. Smell and taste especially." I tapped the hole at the base of my beak. "These nostrils are nowhere near as sensitive as yours. And our tongues don't have as many taste buds. The theory is that we don't chew, so the food doesn't stay on the tongue as long, so we don't need to taste as much.

"So THAT means, everything I've eaten the past week has been a lot blander than I remember. The basic tastes are still there, and I can hold some of it on my tongue longer to get some stronger flavours. But mostly it just goes down into the gizzard to be churned up and passed along."

"Wait, you don't chew?" Rob looked confused. "I just figured you could... I dunno, chew at the back of your beak or something, like you do with the straw."

I resisted the urge to open wide. Instead I sat back a bit and thumped my chest just below my breasts. "Nope, no chewing. Got a gizzard in here that will dump acid on it and churn it all up before pushing it along. That's why I need to make sure I keep everything bite sized; it has to go down whole."

I picked up a piece of bread and tore a piece off. "Softer things like bread or greens, I can tear with the beak. Technically I can do it with meat too, but that's less polite and can be messier. Good thing we have silverware to do the cutting like civilized folk.

"So yeah, taste isn't a strong thing for me now, but some strong tastes can come in. I've found I like the spices, and peppers especially. My host, Paul, discovered he had quite the sweet beak." I turned slightly and nodded towards the griffon student. "Others have found they prefer different strong flavours, or maybe they haven't found their new favourites yet."

"Didn't I read somewhere that birds don't taste capsaicin? Shouldn't peppers do nothing for you?" Rob asked.

I shrugged, "I'm not a bird, or at least not fully. My taste could be a cat trait peeking through or something. All I know is that I've been decimating the hot pepper section of the grocery stores in Fort Parker all week long."

"So, is there anything you can't have?" Juanita asked.

"Nothing we've found yet. We're as omnivorous as you or the Titans. It just has to be bite sized."

As if on cue, our meals arrived. I made a show of swallowing one of my extra hot peppers whole; considering I didn't chew, it was less of a show than it looked but to humans it seemed scary. The rest, I chopped up and mixed into the pasta to get the real spice I was after. I ate slowly, trying to get what flavouring I could from it, and trying to give my insides time to make room as I went; I'd quickly learned my meal capacity was nowhere near as big as I was used to, but it was offset by getting hungry faster. A proper meal every few hours was something I needed when I was active and not just riding in a car.

Towards the end of the meal, I realized I was the focus of someone's attention. The students were finishing up, and the griffon was hanging back, looking at me and trying to build up the nerve to approach me. I excused myself and wandered over to her. "Can I help you?"

"I... well... maybe. You seem to know a lot about what happened and what we are. And I just wanted to know how."

"Well first, I'm Simon. Nice to meet you." I held out my hand and smiled. "As for what I know, I've just been reading a lot and hanging out with a bunch of people who know stuff. Didn't have much else to do over the break."

"I'm Mike," she said after a moment, returning the hand shake. "I've been trying to read and watch all I can, but you just seem so much better prepared. How'd you do it? And could you... could you help me?"

"How'd I do it? I'm not sure..." I thought back to my past week. "I was stuck at Fort Parker, where the Americans set up their base. Spent a lot of time at the J. I guess I got a lot more info from osmosis than I realized. Not to mention being near the front of the line to be a guinea pig."

"You were at the J? I thought I saw you before. Just in some of the videos, in the background. I was wondering who you were."

I glanced away, embarrassed a bit. Despite being asked many times, I was too camera shy to let myself be featured in any of the training and reporting videos that had gone out. But the media was so thick around the J, and my plumage so distinctive, I knew I was in a lot of establishing shots whether I wanted to be or not. "I guess that was me. I'm rather hard to miss."

"That you are. It looks pretty." She turned away a little.

"Well, you're pretty too," I said, figuring she needed a bit of a pick-me-up. And she was good looking; raven feathering with a snow leopard mix. "Anyways, don't worry about it; you've made it a week, the hard part's over now. And Calgary's a big place, I'm sure you'll find lots of help out there. Hell, I've heard there are a few Titans there. They're good to talk to if you want to find someone who's further along this strange road we're on."

Mike took a few deep breaths and seemed to settle down. "Yeah, you're right. I've spent the past week in someone's summer camp, trying to find all I could. I thought I was ready to go home, but I started having second thoughts. Things are so... normal out here, and I'm so different. I wasn't ready."

I grabbed a clean napkin from the table and flipped my stylus over to pen mode. "You're never as ready as you think you are, but sometimes you just have to take the leap. Here's my contact, feel free to call if you need someone to talk to."

She took the napkin and nodded her thanks. She seemed at a loss of where to put it before she remembered her phone and tucked it in the phone's case.

"How's your ride? You still have three hours to Calgary right?" I asked.

"It's rough, but not too bad. Four of us in an Escape is a bit tight, but I should still be flightworthy when we get there."

"Well have a good trip, and good luck. You'll be fine I'm sure."

I waited a moment for her to go into the restaurant, then wandered back to my table.

"For someone who says they prefer to be an asocial hermit, you sure like to help people," Juanita noted with a playful smile.

"I just like helping those that need real help, is all," I said, sitting back down. "She-" I paused as my mind mentally slapped me. I bristled a bit every time strangers used female terms with me, and here I was calling 'Mike' a she. "HE is a student, going back to Calgary. He was caught on the highway, and has been in Elkwater through this mess. Sounds like they weren't quite as organized as Fort Parker was."

"Dude, you have no idea how bad it was up here," Rob said emphatically. "They're already shouting for an inquiry into the government responses up here. The Military shut things down and didn't let anyone in until Tuesday. And after that they were just trying to play catch up on what was going on south of the border."

I winced at the thought, and was thankful I got stuck where I did. While there were thousands affected in the province, most of them were in the northern part of the circle, so news on their situation hadn't really trickled down to us.

"Ugh, ain't that a kick in the nuts. Well, I was planning to get involved in the Edmonton griffons when I got home, I may end up more involved than I planned."

I packed up the rest of my meal in a Go Box for later and settled the bill. We walked back to the hotel, but I was feeling a bit too energetic to settle down yet. After stashing the leftovers in the fridge, I excused myself and took off for an evening flight, making use of what sun was left.

Medicine Hat was a small city, with a lot of 80's/90's era sprawl and not much height. But it was growing and had a few cranes on its skyline hinting of a taller future. I did a slow loop over the city, making use of the thermals from the hot day while staying low enough not to get into trouble. I spotted a few other griffons out for their own early evening flights, but the skies were otherwise empty.

I lightly tapped on the joining door between our rooms when I returned. "I'm back guys. I'm leaving my side open if you want anything. Don't worry, I'm staying decent."

"Welcome back," Rob called through the door. "We might be over in a bit."

The rest of the evening went by quickly, with some social time, and just some relaxing time. I had an old episode of CSI on for background noise by the time I decided to turn in. The AC was on, taking the edge off the heat in the room. I flipped the duvet off the bed and left it on a chair. I killed the lights and TV and belly flopped onto the bed, feeling relaxed for the first time in a week.

Monday, October 2

We float among the clouds, gliding towards each other. She is an icy goddess in shiny blue and white feathers and grey spotted fur. We met in midair, arms going around the other. We rubbed beaks, and my breath quickened, my nipples hardening and pressing against her own breasts. I felt myself hardening fast in her presence, tail feathers spreading.

I pushed back a little from her, beak still rubbing beak. I freed my hands and cupped her breasts a moment then ran my talons through the fur on her belly. A glance down showed my penis swollen, feline barbs covering its hard flesh. I rubbed her own sheath a bit and reached her swollen pussy, feeling the wetness of her opening. I grabbed her hips and pulled her closer, shuddering as I felt her fur against my sensitive shaft. I pulled her closer, penis pressing into her opening....

I bucked on the mattress and gasped, my whole body tense as I felt a release I hadn't felt in a long time. I felt a hint of something splatter onto my fur up to my breasts. I was panting, chest heaving, my mind spinning from the dream and the reality. I slowly opened my eyes, the room dimly lit from the window with the hint of dawn.

I rolled to one side and absentmindedly rubbed at my breasts with one talon, the other drifting down to my cock. It was still quite hard and wet. A light rubbing against the barbs sent a shiver of pleasure up my spine I'd never felt before.

I woke up enough to realize what I was doing, what I had done, and lifted my hands clear. My body quivered with disappointment while my mind wrestled to regain control from the animal instincts.

"Damn..." I mumbled, slowing my breath. "Didn't think I was that pent up."

I slid off the bottom of the bed and stood up. In the bathroom, I found the thick seed forming a trail up my belly to my breasts. It was embarrassing but also a bit impressive considering I'd been face down, or maybe on my side; I couldn't remember for sure. I started running water in the tub and began cleaning up, quickly emptying the hotel provided shampoo bottles. By the time I was finished, little me was back in its furry sheath and my nipples didn't feel quite as hard. The orgasmic high was fading, leaving behind a pleasant exhaustion.

Rubbing my fur with a towel, I checked the bed for damage. To my surprise I'd somehow managed to keep my claws in. The sheets had some slight tears and a wet track of its own, but the mattress was intact. Relieved, I killed the lights again, and crawled back onto the mattress, trying to avoid the wet area, and dozed off.

A couple of hours later, I woke up again, the predawn excitement still fresh in my mind. I laid on my side, thinking of the fantasy griffon. I'd never seen any griffon with that combination of blue bird and snow leopard before, but my subconscious seemed to have picked her as my dream girl. I smiled a little, bringing her back to mind. For the first time, I felt a different sort of stirring in my loins, deeper inside me.

I gasped and chased her out of my mind and scrambled out of bed. I splashed a bit of cold water on my beak and face and looked at myself in the mirror. My fur and feathers were extra frazzled, but nothing seemed different, especially down below, despite the other beast that was finally stirring.

I grabbed my brushes and started an intense preening session, focusing on anything but the icy blue goddess. When my pulse had settled down to 'merely' heart pounding, I flicked on the TV for extra noise and distractions.

Soon after, I heard a tap on the door. "Hey Simon, you up yet?" Rob asked in a pseudo whisper.

"I'm up, but I'm not decent yet," I called back.

"That's fine. Neets and I are going to head down for breakfast. You want us to bring you back anything?"

"Nah, I'm good. I'll be down in a little bit."

It was quarter to nine before I finally felt presentable. I dressed and headed down to the breakfast nook. For a late Monday morning, it was still quite busy. There were even five other griffons eating there. One was alone, two were together and the other two were with their own groups. I gave a quick wing wave as I came in and started checking out the breakfast options. I specifically tried NOT to think of the silence that fell over the room and the dozens of pairs of eyes on me.

By the time my plate was full, the conversation levels had mostly returned to normal. I left it on Rob and Juanita's table, snagged a piece of bacon and went back for a cup of coffee.

"Mornin'," I finally greeted them, flipping a chair around to sit. "I hope you weren't waiting on me. That was the best sleep I've had all week." My mind briefly fluttered to my fantasy griffon, but I shoved her back.

"Not at all, we've just been taking our time, and doing some... well some griffon watching I guess you could say," Juanita said, nodding towards the couple a few tables over. She seemed more relaxed in our presence now.

"We figure we want to get on the road no later than 10," Rob said. "It's about five hours back to Edmonton on a good day, so that should get us there before the evening rush really kicks off, even if we have to stop along the way."

I tested the coffee and decided to stick with the juice until it was cooler. "I'm sure we can be on the road well before then. But yeah, I'm going to need some stops. Five hours at once is going to be too much."

"I meant to ask you," I said between nibbles. "Did you have any trouble getting today off? I didn't even think of that while we were planning."

"None at all. We told Greg why we wanted it, and he said he'd square it up with HR," Rob said.

Juanita laughed, "He did suggest we could make it a business trip and check in on our Elkwater clients, but we pointed out it probably wasn't good timing this time."

"Good, good, I'm going to owe him big time."

The phones didn't come out until we were lingering over our drinks. I wanted to think we were just checking on the traffic and weather before we left, but I knew we were all just scratching the Facebook itch.

As proof of that itch, Juanita gasped and flipped her phone around, "You're Internet famous, Simon!" she said, showing a Top Ten List of Griffons someone had assembled.

The picture was of me, coming in for a landing. The setting sun was behind me, both lighting up my fiery plumage and making me look more impressive than I actually was. The dusk shadows and my dark fur meant the picture only had minimal blurring to keep it G-rated. There weren't any landmarks in the picture, but I knew it had to be around the J.

4. Skyfire. This unnamed phoenix griffon spent quarantine in Fort Parker, but she is not local. This shot was caught as she was coming in for an early evening visit.

"Fourth?" I noted after reading the caption. I wasn't sure how I felt about it; part of me bristled at only coming in fourth, part of me bristled at being called 'she', but mainly I was surprisingly proud to have been noted.

"Well, you're good, but the others are a bit better," Juanita said, flicking through the rest of the list. I grudgingly had to admit she was right, mainly because the other three photos were staged. I knew one of them, but the other two were strangers.

"Skyfire's a good name for you, if you wanted to go that way," Rob noted.

"I'm fine with Simon," I countered and finished off my coffee. "We should finish packing and get on the road."

We returned to our rooms and packed up to leave. With my bag and pillows next to the door, I took pictures of the state of the room. I didn't normally do it, but I knew I was on the hook for the sheets, and I didn't want to also get tagged for a new mattress or some other damage they might want to put in. Court shows were a guilty pleasure of mine, and I knew photos were excellent evidence to counter overzealous damage claims.

Rob knocked on the door and I opened it to let him in. "We're all packed up and- DAMN It's cold in here!"

"Is it? I hadn't noticed. Felt a bit warm actually," I said, looking at the control panel. The room temperature was showing at 15C and the AC was just at max cool. I turned the cooler off and reset the temperature to 20. "Wow, I really didn't notice it."

"You didn't notice?" I saw his eyes glance around the room, noting the duvet folded up on the chair and the disheveled sheets on the bed.

"Not at all. Now that you mention it, it feels a little crisp, but not cold at all."

He shook his head in disbelief. "Well, remember, the driver controls the temperature and the radio," he said. "You good to go?"

"All set."

Three hours later, we were approaching Drumheller, making decent time. Rob was driving the van, while Juanita led in my car. Our chatter had reached a lull, while Meatloaf sang about baseball.

"Okay, I'm sorry if this is too personal, but what's it like?" Rob asked, breaking the silence.

"It? What do you mean?"

"It-everything. You're in a new body, you can fly. You've..." he trailed off, clearly curious but not quite wanting to go there.

"Well, it's hard to explain. The change was horrible, terrifying. And everything since has just been one crisis to the next. But I do have to say, the flying is fantastic.

"The eyesight is damn good too, even if the colours are a bit strange. We seem to pick up more of the ultraviolet range than normal human vision, and it makes some things look just a bit different in a way I can't easily explain. It's not a UV camera but just deeper blues and purples I guess.

"The beak's strange, and the wings and tail are awkward as hell, especially in a world designed without them."

"Yeah yeah, that's all clear. I'm more curious about... well down below." Rob glanced away, cheeks red but honestly curious.

"Oh so it's time for that conversation." I shifted a bit, trying to find a comfortable position. Even with the blankets and stretch breaks, laying on the floor of a moving van for three hours was taking its toll.

"I don't really know what to say. The plumbing shifted so I have to piss sitting down, but otherwise, whatever's down there is still asleep. And that seems to be the case for all of us. The guys are still basically guys, the gals are still gals, even though we look like we have both."

"So you haven't experimented much?"

"When have I had the time? I slept on the floor of a restaurant, then in a big tent with a few hundred other stranded folk, and finally I was crashing on a stranger's couch. Not really the best places to experiment."

"Oh right, yeah that makes sense. After what the Titans said they were doing...."

I rolled my eyes a bit. "Titans have got three sets of genitals that are all active at once, four if you count those pouches. It's no wonder they're so horny all the time. We don't seem to be anywhere near as active." As if to prove me wrong, I felt a tingle in my loins that I quickly stamped down on.

"Yeah, that makes sense I guess. Sorry, I shouldn't have brought it up."

"No, it's okay. Your question is fine, but it's probably one of the top five discussion topics at the J. It gets tiring to go over it all the time."

"Yeah, I suppose that's probably on everyone's minds."

"You got it, we just don't know how bird-like we are and what it all means." The phone rang and I sighed in relief. "Oh thank goodness, saved by the bell."

Rob chuckled and answered it. "What's up Neets?"

"Looks like some big rain coming in off the mountains. I'm pulling into the next big station for a stretch break, and then we should probably push right home."

We both looked westward and saw the skies covered in ominous dark clouds. "Those look like fun," I said, not sure if I was sarcastic or not. "It's a good idea, we'll follow you in."

The Esso wasn't a big station; four pumps and a convenience store. It was fairly busy for a Monday afternoon. We parked and climbed out, stretching. As I spread my wings out and sorted my feathers, I could sense eyes locking on me from other customers and employees. I could feel a difference to the air, with the storm on the horizon. There was a dampness in the air and a different flavour of wind.

"Take your time guys, I'm going to go upstairs for a few minutes, give these a good shakedown," I said.

"Have fun, Skyfire," Rob said, smirking. I gave him a playful wing poke in passing, on my way to an open area of the parking lot.

I pretended I was getting a feel for the winds, but in reality, I was showing off. I could see people getting their phones out, so I stalled long enough for everyone to point my way. When the time was right, I jumped and flapped down, feeling the air under my wings. I shot up into the sky, the wind twisting and churning around me. Last week had been unseasonably hot and dry around Fort Parker, which made for great flying weather, even if it started to become a bit boring. This was the first time I felt a proper low pressure system, and the turbulent air that preceded a storm. It was quite fun.

I let myself have fifteen minutes of fun in the air, circling over the gas station and doing some dives and climbs for the crowd that came out to watch. The skies looked clear, but there were a lot of invisible currents to switch between. When the time I allocated was up, I came in for a landing. Normally, a running landing was the easiest, but since I had an audience and a smaller landing area, I decided to go for a superhero landing.

I picked my spot in front of Rob and Juanita, and came in low over their heads. I back-winged rapidly to kill my momentum and felt myself drop. My paws hit the ground and I kept dropping into a crouch, touching the ground with the tips of my talons. Before I could get my wings pulled in, I felt a gust of wind hit me from behind and my crouch turned into a stumble. It still earned an appreciative round of applause.

"Thank you, thank you," I called out, regaining my footing and bowing. I shook my wings out again and waved.

"Show off," Rob grinned at me.

"Did you enjoy the show?" I asked.

"We certainly did, Skyfire," Juanita said. "You looked like you were having fun too."

"Don't call me that," I countered. "And yeah, it was fun. I think that storm's coming in faster than it looks. Now if you'll excuse me, I've really gotta pee."

I jogged to the store, the watchers parting to let me through. I saw more than a few cameras recording and waved to them, knowing I, or rather Skyfire, was going to be on youtube before I got home.

"Sorry for the impromptu show," I said to the clerk. "I've been on the road a long time today, so I had to get a good stretch. Bathroom?" I'd already spotted the sign but waited a beat for the clerk to point me there. Thankfully, the station had two unisex bathrooms, so I didn't have to squeeze into a stall.

While my friends took care of their own needs, I chatted with the clerk and a bunch of the customers and others who saw my flight and followed me in. They were mainly amazed and curious about what I'd become, since I was the first griffon they'd met in person. I reluctantly decided to somewhat officially claim Skyfire for want of a better nickname and to preserve a bit of anonymity. We managed to escape my new entourage just before the first fat drops began to fall.

"That looked like fun. The flying that is, not the fan mob. Makes me a little jealous if I was honest," Juanita said as we got back on the road.

"Yeah, it was fun. I'm not sure if it was worth it, but it's damn close." I popped the seal on a bottle of PowerAde and squirted some into my beak.

"So I take it you'll be flying into work from now on?"

"You better believe it. Weather permitting, I'll be winging it. And considering how much fun that storm front was, weather might permit more often than you'd expect."

"Too bad they didn't rent the office space in the building with the helipad; you'd be all set."

I chuckled, "Yeah that would have been perfect. I'll have to see if they'll give me roof access. Until then, I'll be stuck walking in the lobby like the rest of you humans."

"The roof's twenty stories up. The height doesn't bother you?"

"You'd think so, but no, not at all. Feels as natural as walking; more natural even. It never even occurred to me to be scared of heights, not when you're up there."

We fell silent as the rain storm intensified. I let Juanita focus on the road and tried not to be a distraction. Gusts of wind would strike the side of the van and I could feel my wings twitch, wanting to catch it even though I couldn't actually feel them.

Three hours later, we were winding our way through suburban streets on the southwest side of the city. The storm had blown past, leaving behind wet skies that were constantly drizzling rain. I found myself getting nervous, wondering what my neighbours would think of the new me, and how I would break it to them.

Home was a small two story house built in the mid 80's on a too-small pie-slice of a lot, surrounded by roads on three sides in the middle of a subdivision. Modern city planning would probably have turned the lot into a park, or reworked the road network to prevent the lot from forming in the first place, but my area was built long before those lessons were learned. Still, it was a nice house that I had grabbed before the housing boom sent prices into the stratosphere, and I'd put a lot into fixing it up since then. It had three bedrooms and a bath upstairs, and an open concept downstairs with a half bath, a partly finished basement, and a single car garage, all on a lot that made postage stamps look huge. To offset my nervousness, I started pondering what additional renovations I would need to do now.

"Hug the right side of the driveway," I said as we turned the last corner. "Then Rob can pull right into the garage."

Rob knew my place well; the garage door was already opening before Juanita parked. I looked around to see if anyone was out, but the rain seemed to be keeping everyone in. I still felt nervous, climbing out and stretching, wondering who might be home in the houses around us, looking out the window to see a cat-bird. It was around 5:30, so I knew people should be coming home, not to mention the families with kids who would be home from school for hours now. But it was quiet.

I fished my house keys out of my pocket and climbed the stairs to my front door. I unlocked it and stepped inside, not sure what to expect. It was exactly as I had left it, which felt wrong, considering how much I had changed. I carefully tapped my disarm code in with the tip of a talon, and stepped back out.

"Come on in guys, I think I might have something left in the kitchen...."

Rob chuckled, "We were going to ask if you needed anything. Make a list and we'll hit the Superstore for you."

"You don't have to do that. It's not that far away, literally a quick hop."

"Maybe, but hopping back would be more challenging. We're here now, we can drive and get anything you need, and maybe bring back dinner. I've got a feeling you're not exactly eager to get back in the van."

"Fine, let's see what I need."

We went through my kitchen, building up a list of essentials I was lacking, and figuring out what we would have for dinner. We decided on Swiss Chalet since the restaurant was across the parking lot from the grocery store. They left to run the errands, and for the first time in a long time, I was alone. I wandered around my home, finding it familiar, but still feeling like I was invading someone else's territory.

Upstairs, I checked my bedroom first, the master bedroom. The space was tight, but not too bad; the layout was usable, and my Queen sized bed was certainly big enough for me.

The second bedroom was a bit dusty, and I mentally made a note to clean it up before my parents showed up on Thursday for the Thanksgiving weekend.

"So many chairs," I mumbled, rolling the desk chair back from the desk in my third bedroom. I'd made it my home office during COVID, and left it that way since then. It came in handy during some of the snow days over the winter.

I returned downstairs, and was a little disappointed that the stairwell was too cramped to jump down. I cleared off the dining room table, dusted it off and set out some placemats and cutlery. I was debating setting out glasses when I heard the van pull back into the driveway. Juanita was already at the door by the time I got there, with the bag of hot food. I stepped to the side to let her in and looked at Rob grabbing the grocery bags.

"Need a hand?" I called out.

He grunted and tugged at the sliding door to trigger its closing mechanism. "Nope, I've got it," he shouted back, waddling to the stairs. I relieved him of half the bags once he got to the doorway.

We put things away and settled down for the meal. Annoyingly, my dining room chair backs were too high to sit on reversed, so I had to settle on an ottoman that was too short to really sit on comfortably. It made me feel like I was a kid sitting at the big table.

"Thanks guys, for everything. I owe you both big time, and not just the amount on the spreadsheet Rob's been adding to while we ate," I said, winking at my friend.

He laughed and flipped his phone over. "I wasn't doing.... Ok I was. Damn your eyes are good. And don't sweat it, if you even sweat any more. You're a friend, we're glad we could help you."

"So you're home now, have you thought about what's next?" Juanita asked.

"A good night's sleep in a familiar bed for one thing. And a call to the parental units to figure out what we're doing this weekend. They're coming up Thursday for Thanksgiving. Beyond that..." I paused, honestly having no idea what I would be doing. There were some things I knew I needed to do, like checking in with some of the Fort Parker groups and other adaptation things; but as far as general living went, I was stumped. "Hell, I might log in and do some work at some point. Shocking I know."

"Gotta pay my bill somehow, after all," Rob said. He stood up and started collecting the garbage. "You sure you're going to be okay?"

I sighed and shook my head. "Sure? Not sure at all. But like any life changing event, there comes a point when you just need some alone time to process it all. I've been going all out all week, and now I just want to rest, to settle into my safe space here and let it properly sink in." I spread my wings. "This is me now, there's no changing that. I just need some time to fully accept it."

"And that is why Greg flipped you onto medical leave. Your body may be hale and hearty, but your mind's been through a traumatic experience, as bad as if you'd been horribly scared in an accident, or paralyzed. Frankly, I'm amazed you're holding it together so well," Juanita noted.

I tapped my head, "If you could see in here, you might not be amazed. Ultimately, I think I've got some 'help' still in effect." The pair looked puzzled. "No, not drugs if that's what you're thinking. But something else. It's hard to explain if you haven't been through it...."

I paused for a moment to collect my thoughts. "Remember, this is all theoretical, but it's the theory I like." I tapped my skull again, "We like to think our minds are special, souls and what not. But ultimately all we are are a bunch of electric-chemical reactions happening in these skulls. Whatever changed us, manipulated our biology in ways we cannot begin to comprehend. And while we don't like to talk about it much, the biological manipulation went to the gray matter too.

"The Titans said they felt it during their change. Other griffons said they felt the same, and I certainly felt it. A... not really a presence, but something in my mind, keeping the bad things contained during the worst parts of the change, and propping me up where and when I needed it. The dream info dumps we got were another aspect of it. And now, a week later, I'm realizing a third aspect I hadn't really noticed. It's a... a scaffolding if you will, helping to prop up, well to prop up me while I figure out who I am now.

"It may just be a coping mechanism and I'm imagining it all, but it's working for me, and maybe eventually the new me won't need it. But for now, I appreciate they are there, because some of the depths I'm teetering on look mighty deep and scary."

"Oh Simon," she said, coming around the table to hug me. I returned the hug, then motioned to Rob to stop hovering and join in.

"You've seemed so confident, so together. I hadn't realized," Juanita said.

"Fake it until you make it, right? That's all we can do," I said. I had a feeling they were second guessing leaving me alone. "Don't worry about me. My scaffolding is quite solid. I'm not about to do anything stupid. But I do really need some alone time, time to properly figure out who I am now, and not just what I am in the eyes of others."

The hug broke apart and she turned away but not before I saw the wetness in her eyes. "Of course, that makes sense. But call us if you need anything, no matter what the time. We're only half an hour away."

"Of course. And thank you again for everything." I made a little shooing motion towards the door.

Rob smiled and took Juanita's arm. "We'll call tomorrow to check in on you, maybe drop in after work to see if you need anything."

"Just not too early, I intend to do something I haven't done for my entire vacation... sleep in."

Tuesday, October 3

My icy goddess returned, floating in a cloudy sky. We hugged each other and nuzzled beaks. I ran my talons over her firm nipples and felt myself hardening. She rubbed back, dipping her head to nip at my nipples, sending a quick surge of pleasure through me. I continued to stroke down her sides, stroking her sheath. This time her cock stirred a little, a dark member poking out of her grey furred sheath. My fingers finished their tracing rubbing over her mound and her swollen female sex.

She pushed me back a moment and looked me over, focusing on my own swollen member. She stroked it gently against the barbs, sending another shiver up my spine. I couldn't resist any more, I took her hips and pulled her against me, my hard maleness against her mound. We wiggled and rocked a little and I found her opening and slid into her hot tunnel.

I gasped and let out a happy screech, hips bucking forward. I felt a release in my loins before I collapsed back onto the bed. I was panting hard, mind spinning. I reluctantly rolled partly onto my side and looked down, past my breasts, seeing a wet streak on my belly up to my breasts. I realized I was squeezing my hard shaft in one hand, still glistening with my climax.

"Goddamnit!" I cursed my subconscious. Now that I was properly alone, it felt like it was trying to make up for lost time, and I wasn't sure I was ready for that. I let myself go and reluctantly wiped my talon on my belly fur, sighing at the matted mess I'd made. I realized my feet were still tensed, claws dug deep into the comforter I'd fallen asleep on top of. A comforter now wet with my excitement.

I laid on the bed, glancing at the clock and realizing it was only six in the morning. The window was brightening a bit with predawn, but actual daylight was still a ways away. I forced my breathing to slow, and willed myself to relax. One hand wandered down to my groin, rubbing at my slit and feeling a moistness there I wasn't used to. It made my pulse quicken again until I stamped down on it and left it alone.

"No. No more happy fun time," I scolded my id. Clearly it wanted to show off everything my new body could do, but I wasn't ready to go that far yet. I hugged one of my pillows, resting on my side. I tried to ignore the wetness and mess in general as I forced myself to doze off again.

'Sleeping in' after my subconscious had its fun took me to around nine in the morning. With a groggy groan, I slid out of bed and went to clean up. It was a sticky mess that matted my fur, but soap and shampoo and a lot of towels took care of things. That and a thorough brushing of my belly and chest, but not my breasts; they were still tingling too much for me to feel comfortable touching them much.

Feeling halfway presentable, I went downstairs to feed my gizzard, and ponder my day's plans. A look outside showed overcast skies, but no more rain. My hand was on the handle of the backdoor before I remembered that I should probably dress before taking a morning flight.

My backyard was tiny. The small deck led down to a stone patio for a table and BBQ that filled about half the space. The back and one side were lined with a hedge and fence that separated me from the roads. My only neighbour had a simple wooden fence between us. The non-patio section was filled with my gardens, both flower and vegetable, all fallow at this time of year. It was fine for taking off from, but I would have to get really good at my superhero landings to use it as a landing spot.

I left the landing as a problem for future-me, and took off, climbing slowly and studying my area from above. I'd often looked at the sat views on Google Maps, but those images were static and usually months or years out of date. I could now see the aerial view in real time, in much more detail than the tech giants provided. I mentally memorized what my house looked like from above so I wouldn't lose it in suburbia, and circled higher to take in the lay of the land.

A short distance away (but surprisingly far by car), was a commercial boulevard, with the Superstore, a Shoppers Drug Mart, a few banks, restaurants, an autoglass place and miscellaneous other stores. The train station for the LRT into downtown was just a bit further down the street.

Looking further afield, I could see the towers of downtown scraping the sky. My company's offices took up two floors of an older 20 story I could easily see on the edge of the core. We used to have offices out in an industrial park, but a few years ago, management decided to take advantage of the COVID Officepocalypse and snagged some cheap space in the core.

I carefully considered the distance and decided it would be an easy commute in the future. I was sorely tempted to head in already, but decided it was safer to stay local, at least until I got an altimeter and figured out where the No-Fly zones were. The provincial legislature wasn't too far away from the office and I was pretty sure that would be limited.

I enjoyed a leisurely hour flying below the cloud level, watching people shop and go about their daily lives. It made me realize how little people tended to look up. While I was sure some spotted me, I never noticed anyone looking up my way.

I zeroed in on my home and decided to avoid the superhero landing for now. I lined up with the sidewalk and glided down for a running landing. A barking dog surprised me, almost making me tumble. Once I regained my balance, I saw a neighbour with their golden lab a bit further down the sidewalk.They'd stepped off their property just as I was focused on my landing.

"Hey Rex, it's just me. Hi Sarah," I called out, waving a wing. I realized once the words left my beak that It's me wasn't really helpful to either of them.

She tried to shush Rex while eying me warily. "It's you? Who are you?" she called out over the barking dog.

I took a step towards her, then stopped myself. "Sorry, it's me, Simon. From over there. I just got back from a life changing vacation." I waved a wing at my house.

Sarah wasn't convinced, though Rex stopped barking and was pulling on his leash wanting to examine closer. "You don't look anything like Simon," she countered.

"Yeah, that is a bind," I admitted. I stopped myself from saying I was unarmed; between my claws, my talons and a predatory bird's beak, I was about as far from 'unarmed' as you could get. "Here, how about this? I'll open the garage and you can see my car in there."

Moving slowly, I tapped on the phone and opened the garage. Sarah looked startled for a moment, but recognized my car inside. She still seemed doubtful, but was more willing to believe.

"So you were caught in that mess down south?" she asked, taking a few steps closer.

I crouched down to look less threateningly and held out a talon to Rex who was straining to get closer. "I was. Practically ground zero."

Rex sniffed at my outstretched hand, licking my talons and wagging his tail. He seemed to accept me.

"Oh I'm sorry," she said.

I chuckled, "Sorry... and there I go. Everyone says they're sorry when they hear about it, but you had nothing to do with it. But I do appreciate the thought." I tapped on my phone and pulled up the photo gallery. "Here, remember the community barbeque on Labour Day? This might help convince you I'm who I said I am," I said, showing some of the random shots I'd taken.

She relaxed more, pity starting to replace suspicion. I gave Rex a few careful scritches under the chin and behind the ears. "So did you just get home?" she asked.

"Yeah, Last night. A couple of friends gave me a lift. You're the first I've bumped into since then though."

"Lucky me. I never expected to bump into a... well you this morning."

"And I wasn't expecting to become one of these a week ago; but here we are." I smiled. "You want to come in for coffee? I'm still trying to figure out how I'll break the news to everyone else."

She shook her head and seemed legit disappointed in not being able to take my offer, "No. Thanks but no. I was just giving Rex a quick run before work."

"That's fair; I've got a few more days before I rejoin the rat race myself. But the offer's open whenever you want. Just knock."

"Sure sure. Uhm... do you want me to keep quiet about... this?" she motioned at me.

"Nah, I can't hide it, so feel free to mention it. Might make it easier on me if the grapevine's primed before other rumours get out."

I gave Rex a few more scritches, and we parted ways.

The rest of the day passed by quickly. I mainly puttered around, cleaning and reorganizing my house to try and make it more comfortable, and building up some lists of short, medium and long term things I might need to do.

I checked in with the groups down in Fort Parker to see if there were any new updates. They seemed to be curious about changing hormone levels, but the lingo was over my head. No one was raising alarms, so I figured it was safe to stay the course for now.

I chatted with my parents, going over the plans for Thursday. We briefly argued over whether they should rent a van or not. I was against it since I had a perfectly good car they could use while here. They pointed out that I couldn't fit in the car so if we wanted to go anywhere together it would be a challenge. I argued their visit was too short to really need to go anywhere. They argued back that they could extend the visit in case I needed more help. I nixed that quickly, and we ended in a stalemate.

By midafternoon, I felt I'd done everything I needed to do, and remembered that I should check in on local griffon resources. It wasn't hard to find an Edmonton group that seemed to be legit. I clicked to join, and got a pending approval message.

Edmonton Griffons Support Network is a group specifically for those who were changed in the September 23rd event. We are associated with similar groups in Calgary, Medicine Hat, Battlecreek, SK, Fort Parker, MT and other locations.

All griffons are welcome to join, but proof of their change is required. An in person meeting or a virtual meeting may be arranged to prove yourself.

Unchanged people may be added on a case by case basis when invited by a changed person.

There were links to schedule a meeting with the moderator, and I managed to find a virtual slot in half an hour. I killed time browsing for altimeters and other flying gear, and soon enough the meeting reminder popped up.

The meeting was with "Michelle DeLong" and her avatar was a cartoon image of a griffon.

"Good day, Simon. Can you hear me?" she asked as the connection settled and her real self appeared on the screen. She had blue feathers, but not the icy blue of my subconscious goddess; she had a blue jay plumage from what I could tell and grey furry ears with dark tufts on the tips, indicative of a lynx feline part. She was looking at something else and not at the camera feed as far as I could tell.

"You're good at my end," I replied.

"Good, good. This is just a formality," she started to say as she finally focused on the screen. The rest of her words trailed off and her eyes widened and a tuft of feathers rose from the back of her head. "Are you Skyfire?!? You are, aren't you?"

"Uhm... maybe?" I replied, not sure how to react.

"You don't know? You're all over the internet. The videos of your flights over Drumheller yesterday really caught people's eyes. I should've realized, if you were coming from FP and were in Drumheller you would have ended up here."

"I didn't think much of it, to be honest. I was mainly focused on getting home yesterday."

"That's fair. But you should probably look into that, and maybe grab it before it gets too far out of control." She leaned forward and I saw an approval notification show up.

"In any case, Simon's approved for the group, welcome aboard, and we're glad to have you. You might want to setup a Skyfire account while you're at it if you want to keep some separation."

"Yeah, I'll think on that," I said, not sure what to make of this internet infamy.

She shook her head and refocused. "Sorry, enough fangirling. I just wanted to review the group rules with you. Pretty standard stuff, be kind, be nice, no flame wars, keep the politicking to a minimum unless pre approved. We're here to help each other, so feel free to ask questions, and please answer with your own experiences if you can. All griffons are welcomed, and humans are welcomed if they are vouched for by a griffon. Any questions?"

"No, I think I'm good... well one question. What's flying around here like?"

"Number one question in the FAQ," Michelle laughed. "The exact rules are being sorted out, but it's not too bad. TransportCanada has established a 500meter/1600 foot ceiling for us, and I know the conversion doesn't match but it's close enough for government work. That works out to about twice the height of Stantec Tower if you don't have a proper altimeter yet.

"As for where we can fly, the skies are the limit, pretty much literally. There's a small no hovering zone over the Legislature; you can fly over but don't hang out in the skies basically. But the rest of the city and beyond is open. Other than the airports. The airports are a strict No Griffon area." She laughed, "They don't even want us walking around there. Once you get in the group, we've got links to show the latest No Griffon zones in the cities and in the province in general."

"Great, that's good to know. I work downtown, and I was eyeballing the flight route this morning. Looks like I should have a clear path."

"Glad things are working out for you." I caught a slight hint of bitterness, and suspected her own work future was less shiny than mine. "In any case, welcome to the group, Skyfire. I know it is Thanksgiving weekend, but we're looking to have a get together this Saturday, if you want to come. We want to make it a regular gathering, at least until we're all better settled."

"This weekend probably isn't good; I've got family coming up from Ontario. But I'll try to make the next one."

"Great, I look forward to meeting you in person. Take care."

Once she was gone, I started checking. #Skyfire did seem to be trending slightly, on a "locally famous" level. Dozens of videos from my flight over the gas station were tagged with it, along with older videos from Fort Parker. The better videos had tens of thousands of views. I ughed a bit and tried to figure out how I felt about it. I figured there was nothing I could really do about it other than wait out my fifteen minutes. I made a note to look up how to set up a new persona, and added it to my long list of things to do.

Rob stopped in after work, mainly just to check up on me. He seemed relieved to see how I was doing. We chatted a bit about random things, including 'Skyfire'. With him backing me up, I did a quick tour of my nearest neighbours, introducing the new me. It was awkward, and no one really knew what to do with the new me; but at least they were aware of me now.

After the tour, we had a beer and loaded my work gear into his van to return to the office. We chatted a bit longer, and then I was alone again.

Wednesday, October 4

She returned to me in the glowing clouds. We embraced and rubbed beaks, talons running down our sides. This time she seemed more forward, cupping my breasts and rubbing my nipples. I moaned softly and nuzzled back, my pulse quickening. I rubbed her wings a bit while her hands drifted lower, stroking along my erect member before letting go, teasing.

I smiled and nuzzled back, starting to rub down her sides. The need didn't feel quite as urgent as the other nights, so I was feeling like I could enjoy it more. I stroked her sheath and saw her swell larger and larger.

This time felt different somehow, instead of wanting to go lower, to rub her moist opening, I kept on her shaft. My own loins quivered, a deeper feeling I wasn't familiar with waking up. I let her go for a moment and let her talons explore me, feeling them rub sensitive flesh that was wet with arousal. She grabbed my hips and pulled me closer. I felt her hard shaft against the flesh.....

My whole body tensed up and I shuddered, wings lifting me up off the bed a bit as I felt strange muscles contract and spasm in me. After a blissful eternity, I felt the tension begin to fade. I wiggled my wings to get back into a comfortable position and tried to figure out what happened, wide awake at six in the morning again.

"Damnit, can't you just let me sleep in?" I grumbled, beginning to take a mental assessment as the body rush faded. The orgasm had felt different but why didn't fully register at first. I rolled onto my side and looked down and saw my cock glistening a bit, but not at full erection. The sheets were dry at my chest and belly level as far as I could tell.

Instead, my hand was lower down, pressed against my furry lips. They were swollen and wet and the contact was still triggering a pleasurable tingle. I'd had my first female orgasm.

"Damn.... Damn Damn Damn Damn Damn..." I mumbled, my mental supports creaking under the strain. With everything I'd gone through, I'd maintained my male self image, even with the constant feel of breasts on my chest and pissing sitting down. I knew academically what else I had in me, but it wasn't active, wasn't really a part of me.... until now.

Unable, and unwilling to dose off again, I slide off the bed. My groin was wet, another new feeling. I vaguely noted my comforter was also pretty shredded now after two consecutive days of uncontrolled climax.

In the bathroom, I wet a face cloth and wiped myself down, cleaning up slowly. I used a shaving mirror to take a closer look at what I had ignored for the past week. I recognized the basic parts, dredging up memories of sex ed and curious web browsing and active porn browsing, not to mention a few girlfriends through the years. But this was part of me now, as much a part of me as my cock. I carefully spread it open, careful of my talon tips, and saw a wet opening of a vagina... of my vagina.

I let everything go and leaned against the wall, feeling the towel rack press against my back. I breathed deeply and slowly, not thinking of anything in particular, just letting things settle into place. Eventually, more on automatic than any conscious thought, I finished washing up and went downstairs. More sleep was not going to come this morning.

I tossed a bagel in the toaster and grabbed a jug of chocolate milk; today felt like a full jug day. I took a big gulp while hovering near the toaster. "One more day. You get one more day then you're going back to sleep. I am NOT doing that when mom and dad are here," I scolded myself. Deep inside, I felt the animal purring happily, and I wasn't sure if it would listen or not.

The morning passed by in a bit of a haze. I skipped my morning flight and instead went into the Fort Parker updates, paying more attention to the news I'd skimmed over the day before.

"Estrogen and similar female focused hormone levels on the rise among griffons who were cis-male before the change, with a similar decrease in testosterone levels. In original cis-female griffons, the opposite has been observed, with increasing testosterone levels and decreasing estrogen levels. At one week post-change most griffons are at similar levels of each hormones, but the trends have continued in the days since.

"Cis-Male griffons have reported an increase in female arousal, while their male arousal feelings have been decreasing. Cis-Female griffons have similarly reported an increase in male arousal and a decrease in female arousal. "Both types are capable of erection and ejaculation. Cis-males report they feel it is more difficult to do it, while cis-females report it getting easier. Sperm levels in ejaculate mirror the hormone levels, decreasing with the former cis-males, and increasing in the former cis-females. "More observations and study is needed, but signs seem to indicate griffon biology operates on a 4 week male-female cycle. It would follow that female fertility would likely be at its peak at the female peak of the cycle and male fertility at the male peak. The first griffons will reach these points on or around October 8th if this theory is correct.

"There does seem to be some variation among the griffons; some are 'running later' than others, and will not reach their peaks until days later.

I groaned and kicked myself for not paying more attention to the report earlier. It did make my feelings and my dreams make more sense. I couldn't test, but it made me suspect I was one of the lucky ones on a later cycle, whatever that implied.

I went through more reports, looking for any more important details I may have missed, and came up dry. As far as anyone could tell, no one was pregnant yet, despite strong efforts from active couples. 'Scientific sex experiments' were happening, but there was no sign of ovulation yet, let alone impregnation. Now that they found evidence of this monthly cycle, I could sense the eagerness in the reports for the female peak and what it might mean. It did mean a guy was probably going to be the first pregnant griffon, if that distinction even mattered for us any more.

By noon, I realized I was slipping into a funk, and mentally kicked myself. Knowing my parents would be flying out tomorrow, I started doing a more thorough cleaning. I set up the spare bedroom and squeezed down to the basement to do a few loads of laundry.

Around four, I was done with my chores and I was feeling restless. I'd been inside all day and was yearning for the skies. Facebook kicked off a reminder and I knew what I would do next; it was time for Skyfire to officially show up on the local scene.

Every Wednesday, from 6 to 7, Pokemon Go had a Raid hour event, a time when the current raid bosses would spawn all at once. It gave communities a time when they knew a bunch of legendary and mythical Pokemon would be available, so they could gather and beat multiple raids at once. In my local community, I regularly co-led a walking group around an area with a lot of gyms, making sure people could do as many raid fights as we could get done.

Last Wednesday, I'd been in quarantine (but still did a couple of fights with remote passes and with other quarantined griffons). This week, I hadn't planned on going out, but it felt as good a time as any to go out and try to do something 'normal'. I sent a quick message to my co-leader.

Simon: Hey there. I'm going to Raid Hour tonight. Be at Pinecones for 5:30 if you want to talk early.

The responses were almost immediate.

Ryan: ???

Ryan: !!! Ryan: Really? You sure?

Simon: I'm sure. Can't hide forever. See you there.

I got dressed and checked my gear and headed out. I took off from my backyard and started towards downtown. Our walking area was a park area around the river just outside the core. There was a small museum and theatre nearby which helped provide the waypoints needed for the gym density we took advantage of. There were about a dozen gyms that could easily be reached within the hour window.

Being able to fly directly and not worry about traffic lights or turns let me get to the area surprisingly quick. I took my time circling overhead, tracing our usual routes and just getting a lay of the land. With time to kill, I circled over the museum, trying to decide where best to wait. I was tempted to land on the roof but quickly realized security probably would not appreciate that.

"Pinecones" was a granite statue set up outside the museum and the usual starting point for our group. It was basically a kidney shaped platform covered in polished granite evergreen trees about a foot tall. In the centre was a man sized granite pine cone.

I noticed a few people were starting to look up and decided I wasn't quite ready to make my debut yet. I knew Ryan was a walker, and roughly his usual route, so I broke away and started looking for him. I found him a few blocks away, doing a battle at a nearby stop. The sidewalk was busy with the after work crowd, making me hesitate about how I would land. I saw his battle was almost over and decided it had to be now, and it had to be a superhero landing.

I did one last turn over him, and started back flapping. "Heads up!" I called as a warning. Dozens of eyes looked up and looked surprised and the closest people backed away, giving me more room. I dropped from about ten metres up and hit the concrete harder than I'd planned. I stumbled forward onto all fours, making Ryan jump back in surprise. I stood up, slowly and waved to the crowd. "I'm okay!" I called out, getting a smattering of applause.

Ryan was tall, and had dirty blond hair. He wore a battered Team Instinct hat (yellow with a Zapdos on it) and had a headset around his neck. He wore a fall jacket which surprised me; it didn't feel that cold out. He was openly gaping at the cat-bird that landed next to him.


"You got it."

He struggled to piece together words, thoughts jumbling in his head. Finally he shook his head and smiled. "Damn, the kids are going to get a kick out of you."

I started walking with him, aware of how many eyes were following us, along with cameras. "Yeah, I know. I didn't intend for it, but you take what you're given."

Ryan chuckled a bit, "Speaking of taking what you were given, did you realize what the raid mobs are tonight?"

"No, what are they?"

"Galarian birds. Our old friends Articuna, Zapdos and Moltres."

"You're kidding right?"

He laughed and shook his head. "Nope, check the game. There's an early Moltres hanging out at Memorial, and I'm not talking about you."

I didn't check right away, but I did shake my head, chuckling a bit.

"So, are you going to switch teams? You're more Valor than Mystic now."

"No way. I've been Resistance and Mystic from the beginning, I'm not changing now."

We chatted as we walked to the museum and our starting point. A couple more regular players joined along the way, amazed by my presence. At the museum, I looked around and spotted a nook in the building where I'd be mostly hidden from view, especially with some friends to shield me with.

"Most people tend to get here at five to. So I'll pop out then and hopefully it won't delay things too much," I said, backing into the nook.

"It's just the birds, we've all got lots of them, and they'll be back," Nancy said. "So if we miss a few, I'm sure no one will mind."

Ryan ran interference, keeping the newer arrivals over by the statue and focused away from my spot. I could easily see who arrived, and soon heard the voices and running footsteps of the kids. Even on light nights, we still usually had about twenty people show up, including a half dozen kids, mostly school aged. Tonight it sounded like we had a few more than usual, but not too many.

"Good evening everyone," I heard Ryan introducing the crowd. "Looks like we've got a good spawn set tonight, with the three gyms here and the three gyms over at the library hatching on time. With all three birds active, we're going to try and do two of each, if we have time."

I could just see Ryan from my position, and caught a head turn and wink in my direction. "There is a bit of bad news however. There is a bugged Moltres spawn tonight that isn't catchable."

As usual, the kids were a mass of questions. "Awww." "What do you mean not catchable?" "Where is it?"

"Just over there," Ryan said, pointing towards my hiding spot.

Nancy and Steve stepped to the side to give me room. I noticed Nancy was trying to subtly record the reaction so I made sure not to block her view too much. I stepped out of the shadows, spreading my wings a bit for effect. "Hi everyone, it's good to be back."

I'd never heard the kids that quiet before. Their eyes were as wide as saucers, mouths open almost as wide. Their parents seemed similarly stunned for a moment, along with the rest of the regular crowd.

"Taroc? Simon? That's you?" one of the fathers recovered first, using my in-game handle.

I nodded and that seemed to open the floodgates. "Who are you?" "What are you?" "What happened to you?" "Did it hurt?" "Do those work?" "Can you fly?" "Can I become like you?" "Are those sharp?" "Can you become a Zapdos?" "Can you control fire?" "Can I touch?"

I laughed a bit and looked at Ryan helplessly. Some of the rapidfire questions were coming from the older players as well.

"Hi everyone, yes, it's Simon AKA Taroc, your usual walking group co-leader " I crouched and spread my wings a bit. "Yes you may touch, but be careful with the big feathers. I really need those to fly. Not too many at once."

A swarm of kids rushed me, but stopped just outside of reach. I brought my wing forward, the end of my wing almost touching one of them. She hesitated, then reached out and touched it, before pulling her hand back like it was burned. She looked at her fingers then reached out again and touched the end of my wing again. I shook it for her.

"Wow, it feels strong," she said.

"Yeah, when I first grew them I was a little worried they were fragile, but no, they're just like my arms. I do have to be a bit careful with the feathers."

"Right, we are here for another purpose. For anyone who wants to actually catch a bird tonight, the first lobby is open. That's the Zapdos raid," Ryan announced, refocusing the group. I and a lot of other people missed the raid, but I didn't mind too much.

Once we got through the first three events, we started walking towards the next grouping. The kids backed off a bit, letting the adults get closer and satisfy their own curiosity.

"So are you going to go by Skyfire now?" Steve asked as we walked along the block. All the double takes we were getting were making me dizzy.

"You heard of that?" I sighed.

He chuckled, "I did. Didn't realize it was you though."

"Honestly, I'm still trying to figure out if I want to claim that identity or not. It did get thrown on me, but it sort've fits. So we'll see."

"That's fair.... I gotta ask, are you sure you aren't a fire bird?"

I tilted my head, "What do you mean?"

"Aren't you cold? Look around, we've all got jackets on. It's probably only high single digits at best. But you're out here in shorts and a crop top, and you don't seem to feel it."

"Yeah, we seem to be more cold tolerant. This doesn't even feel chilly to me. The theory is it's because we're flyers; even in the summer it gets chilly at 10k feet."

"Ten-k? You can really get that high?"

"Maybe. Not sure if I went that high up, but some of us have gone that high. Most of the time we only go a couple thousand. In fact that's the max we can go around here." I flicked my ears, hearing Ryan announce the new lobby. I did a quick count and decided we needed a second one. "Excuse me, gotta go to work."

I tapped on my phone and got the code. "Second lobby is open! Char Char Pika! It's public now!"

The rest of the hour passed uneventfully. The kids stuck around a little longer than usual, but left about half past the hour. The group shrunk down to a half dozen hard core players by the end. The last raid was a late Moltres fight.

"What was hundo again?" I asked, seeing the numbers tick down at the end of the fight. They stopped at a value that felt familiar.

"2031," Ryan confirmed. "Is it good?"

I tapped the screen clearing the achievements and rewards and the bonus screen came up. It was time for my beak to drop open in surprise.

"Is it good?" Ryan asked.

"It's shiny.... It's a shundo," I said, not believing the screen, despite the sparkle indicator and the IV calculator showing 100%.

"No way," Ryan said, crowding closer to look. I held my phone out to show the sparkly bird.

"Make sure you pinapp it," Nancy suggested helpfully.

I tossed the berry and the ball, quickly getting the catch screen. Hitting appraise, I saw the three bars fill up and the frame turned purple. "It's real, it's a shundo. I caught a f-fracking shundo...."

"Gratz man, you deserved it. Skyfire got her first shundo on her first day back, and it's a Moltres to boot. Arceus was looking out for you tonight," Ryan said, not even realizing his slip.

"Thanks guys," I said, missing his slip as well. "It was a great night. I hope I wasn't too distracting."

"Nah, it made another bird night interesting. Besides, after all the nights you've led, you've earned the right to distract us," Nancy said.

"Bring it up again," Ryan said, holding up his camera. "I want to share to the Facebook group and on Discord.... If you don't mind."

"I don't mind, the cat's out of the bag now anyways. Just a sec," I said, bringing up my capture. I hit the rename button and named it Skyfire. I brought up the appraisal screen again and held it up.

"Anyways, it was good to see you guys again, and-" I paused and looked down as my phone started pinging alerts. Ryan's pictures were causing a reaction. "And it was good to feel somewhat normal again."

"You going to be back next week?" Nancy asked.

"I should be. I'm going back to the office on Tuesday, and I'll be trying to get back to some sort of normal routine from then on."

"Well, we'll look forward to you then," Steve said.

I looked around and realized the group was lingering longer than usual. They all had an expectant look to their eyes. "You're all waiting for something, aren't you?"

"No!" "Not at all!" "I'm taking down a grunt!" The chorus of objections made me laugh.

"Fine, fine. Time for me to head out. Have a good Thanksgiving everyone!"

I spread my wings and used them to nudge a few people further away. I crouched and jumped, climbing into the sky and waving. My friends waved back until I broke my spiral and headed home.

As if she had planned it, my phone began to ring as I walked through my door. "Hey mom, I was just about to call," I answered.

"Hey dear. How are you doing today?" she said.

"Eh, well enough. The day started strange, but it ended great, so it was good overall."

"Strange? Strange how?"

"Just... strange," I said, not wanting to go into more details. "How's the packing going?"

She gave up on prying and let me change the subject. "It's going good. Last load of laundry is in the dryer now. Our flight is at 9 and we should be in Edmonton by mid afternoon. We'll call you as soon as we land."

"Great. I wish I could meet you at the airport, but they're extra paranoid about griffs around the big birds." I laughed it off. "So catch a cab out to my place and I'll meet you here."

"Are you sure you don't want us to rent a van?" she asked.

"Nah, save your money. It's just a quick weekend trip. You can use my car and I can meet you anywhere you drive to. It may be a bit dented but it's still perfectly driveable."

She sighed, still disappointed over losing that argument. "Okay. I just wanted to check in before we left."

"I wanted to check in too. Have a good flight and I'll see you tomorrow."

"We will. Love you."

"Love you too, bye-bye."

Thursday, October 5

He floated in the clouds a few metres away from me, the same icy goddess as before, but different somehow. My eyes took him in, and I realized he was already half erect, his penis swelling from his sheath. I felt a quiver in my loins at the sight, a strange wetness forming.

He floated/flew closer to me, He put his hands on my shoulders and dipped his head, nipping at my breasts, making my nipples swell and tingle pleasurably. I nuzzled back as best I could, reaching down to stroke his cock, coaxing it harder, feeling the barbs in my hand.

I hesitated a moment, even in fantasy, my mind rebelling at the thought of something coming into me, especially something like that. But my id was in full control, signalling it was more than ready.

I moved my hands away and let my icy god move forward. His hand went down, rubbing at my mound, making me shiver again in pleasure as the tip of his claw brushed over my clit and tested the opening of my tunnel. His hand moved away and suddenly I felt something else there, pushing into me....

My whole body was tense, hips lifted up to rock against an invisible partner. I felt muscles spasm deep in me, squeezing on nothing. I let out a screech of pleasure, talons and toe claws digging into what was left of my comforter and into the mattress.

An eternity later, the climax began to fade. The tension relaxed and I could slump back onto the mattress, panting hard, my body quivering in the afterglow. Once more, I could feel the wetness at my groin and below. But this time, my penis hadn't even stirred from my sheath.

"I hope... you're happy," I scolded my inner beast between gasps. "Cuz that's the last time until next week." It purred contentedly from its place deep in my id, as indifferent to my abmonisments as any pet cat.

I let my mind drift back to the feelings of the fantasy a bit, still not sure how I felt about it. I knew how erect I could get now; the idea of putting that in me with those strange barbs, was both scary and arousing. I both wanted to know what it would feel to really have something in there, but also I wanted to hold off as long as I could.

When I felt somewhat normal again, I slid off the bed and padded to the bathroom. I cleaned up and dried off. I grabbed my brushes and went downstairs to do a full preening session while watching TV. I knew I had hours before my guests would arrive and I wanted to make sure I was presentable.

Once I felt like everything was in place, I went back upstairs. I got dressed and stripped the bed. The comforter was unsalvageable, and the sheets were nearly in a similar state. There were fresh tears in the mattress, but the damage wasn't as bad as I feared. I made the bed with fresh sheets and decided the rest could all go in the bin.

I took a quick flight around the block, then settled in to wait. I tracked my parent's flights in one window, while catching up on the overnight news and getting to know the local group a bit better. Fort Parker really didn't have anything new yet, but anticipation was high to see what peak male and peak female would mean. The theory was the change put us just past the peak, whatever that meant. It made me more than a little uneasy for the days ahead.

Locally, I could sense a bit of frustration and uncertainty in the group. We had about a hundred confirmed griffons, and by far I seemed to be the one in the most stable of situations. Many were stuck alone and now jobless due to the quarantine and other reasons. As Skyfire, I offered what advice I could, using my Fort Parker links, and wished there was more I could do. The Saturday meetup was feeling more and more important.

By three, I got a Flight Arrived alert, and I knew my parents were near. It was frustrating that I couldn't meet them as they got off the plane, but it was too soon to show my beak down there. I paced around my home, waiting. Google helpfully showed mom's phone was at YEG but she hadn't called yet. I kept pacing, waffling between calling and waiting for her to call. An interminable time later, the phone finally rang.

"Hey dear, we just landed and are waiting on our luggage," Mom said.

"Good good. How was the flight?" I asked, trying to sound normal.

"Not too bad, rough over Superior but it smoothed out from there. You sure you don't want us to rent a van?"

"For the last time, no. We shouldn't need it."

"But what if we need to go anywhere together?"

"We'll figure out something if we have to. Just grab a cab and come home."

I could tell she was hesitating, and I half wished Bev could have come out as well to back me up; but it hadn't worked out.

"Sure, our luggage just showed up. We'll be there soon. Love yah."

I stared at the phone and felt the nervousness building again. With traffic, they were still about an hour away. An hour of flying felt in order. I circled high over my neighbourhood, wondering when I would dare visit the grocery store and just go shopping in general. My outings so far had been fairly isolated, or in a friendly group. Shopping, even at my local stores, was going to be among a bunch of strangers. Future Me was beginning to complain about everything I tossed his way, but I added to his pile.

When the map showed them turning off the boulevard, I dropped down. I spotted the taxi and was relieved mom hadn't gone her own way. The taxi was a few streets away when I landed and ran into my house. My wings, tail, back and body in general ached pleasantly from the results of a good workout.

The taxi pulled into my driveway and I panicked for a moment, not sure how I wanted to greet them. I retreated back to the kitchen, wanting them to come in first. I gulped down some water and waited, listening. The doors slammed and the taxi pulled out.

"You ready for this?" I heard dad ask quietly. The windows were open, carrying the sound easier but I suspected I'd probably have heard them regardless.

"Not really, but there's no point in putting it off right?"

I couldn't see them but I knew dad gave mom a reassuring hug. The doorbell rang.

"It's open!" I shouted. "I'm in the kitchen," I added.

The door opened, and I heard steps and rolling luggage. The luggage was left at the base of the stairs and the steps came closer. They came around the corner and stopped. I waited, letting them take me in.

"Oh... " mom said, frozen in place.

"Hey mom, dad," I greeted them. I took a step forward and spread my arms but held my wings still.

"Oh Simon," Mom said, managing to somewhat shake her stun. She hesitantly moved forward and hugged me. For most of my life, I'd been a head taller than her, but now I realized I'd lost some of that advantage, only half a head taller. I felt her arms around me, threading the armpits between my arms and wings. I hugged her back, carefully keeping my talons off, and felt some of the stress and strain start to ease. I reluctantly let her go and turned to dad, giving him a hug as well.

"So how was your flight? Can I get you anything? I'm a little sparse on things but I've got some pop, coffee, and water."

"Sparse on things? Are you eating okay? Are you having trouble getting things?" Mom asked, picking up on the potential problem right away.

"No troubles," I reassured her, though my mind did think of some of the stories the local group was telling. Some griffons were getting pushback from stores, making it harder for them to get what they needed, along with needing to add delivery charges on top of their financial burdens.

"No troubles," I repeated. "I just haven't gone shopping since I came home. Rob and Juanita got me some things then, and I've been waiting for you guys. And I'm eating fine, as fine as I did before."

"Well make a list and we'll go fill it," mom said. I knew her well enough to tell she was fixating on an immediate solvable problem, instead of tackling the bigger issues.

"Shopping can wait. Besides, it's almost rush hour, the roads and the stores will be crammed. We can go later when things calm."

"You don't have to come. Your dad and I know where the stores are," mom countered.

Dad put his hand on her arm, "Easy Babe, it's okay. It can wait. I'll take a glass of water, Simon."

I nodded to him and turned around to fetch a glass from the cupboard. I could hear a stifled gasp as they had a clear view of my feathered back, wings and tail for the first time. Giving them time to process, I added ice and water from the dispenser. I set the cup to one side and grabbed my bottle, topping it off.

"Here you go," I said, offering the glass to dad. I purposefully squirted some water into my beak as well.

I backed up against the counter, spreading my wings a bit so they were more visible. "So how was the flight?" I asked again, trying to break the silence.

"The flights were fine. But Pearson is still a mess. Luckily our transfer went smoothly," Dad said.

I waited expectantly, hoping they would continue.

"So how about you? How are your flights?" Dad asked.

I smiled, though I doubted they could tell I was smiling. "My flights are incredible. They almost make it worth it. The rules and regs are still wild west, but they aren't clamping down too hard." I took another swig of water. "You want to see?" I flicked a wing to the backdoor, grabbing the opportunity to distract them a bit too hard.

Not giving them a chance to resist, I led them into the backyard and told them to stay on the landing at the door. I hopped over the steps to the middle spot of the tiny yard and faced them. With a quick wave, I took off. I grinned, taking in the amazed looks on their faces.

I did a few circles over the house just above the roofline, resisting the urge to go higher. Flying so low was hard; the air was more turbulent and there was a lot less room to recover from the unexpected. I finished my fifth lap and dropped back to the ground, my superhero landing only needing an extra hop for balance.

"Amazing," mom said, shaking her head.

"It is," I agreed, panting harder than usual, feeling the burn in my muscles. Doing such tight low altitude circles was surprisingly hard on the tail muscles on top of everything else. "Let's go back inside and catch up."

The ice wasn't broken, but it had thawed considerably. We hung out in my living room, and I went over what the last few weeks had been like for me. Many aspects, like the male-female cycle, and especially the icy goddess that was haunting my subconscious, I skipped over. But I didn't hide my new 'Skyfire' identity that the Internet had bestowed upon me.

Dinner was sausages on the BBQ. It naturally led to my new eating habits and preferences. Mom used it to segue into a shopping list, both for essentials and for Thanksgiving Dinner on Sunday.

"You guys might need to go on a turkey hunt tomorrow," I noted, munching on some chips. "It's getting late and the stores are probably beginning to get sold out."

"Is turkey really appropriate? Considering what you are?" Mom asked.

I tilted my head, confused. "What I am?"

"You're part bird, turkeys are birds. Would it be right? It wouldn't be like cannibalism or something right?"

I beak-palmed and half expected Bev to call because she sensed mom having a mom moment. "Ma, think about what you just said. Is it cannibalism when you eat a steak? I may be avian but I'm certainly not part turkey. Even if we somehow had frozen eagles to buy, it still wouldn't be that. I'm something different. Not human, not eagle or whatever bird I look like, nor am I panther or feline or any other type of cat. I'm a griffon. Something unique to a hundred thousand of us."

"Oh right, that makes sense."

We built up our lists, both a list of staples I needed for everyday, and a secondary list of things we would need for the turkey dinner. After the kitchen was cleaned up, I flicked on the lights in the garage and opened the garage door, giving dad the keyfob for the car.

"Wow, you did this?" he asked, noting the damage on the side.

"Unintentionally, but yeah. It was an intense experience." I lightly touched some of the dents. "Insurance already said they won't cover it, but I expected that. I've got a local shop that took a look and said they can fix it so it won't get any worse. I'll probably sell it soon after."

"Sell it? But how will you get around?" Mom asked. Bev's mom-sense probably went off again.

I shook my wings, spreading them out halfway, "I don't know, Ma. I guess I'll have to figure out something.

"Seriously, flying around the city is nice, relaxing even. I don't need to worry about traffic jams or awkward routes; I can more or less go literally as the crow flies."

"But what if the weather is bad? If it's raining or snowing?" dad asked.

"The train station isn't far away. Close enough for a quick jump and then I can catch a train downtown to work.I'm not exactly waterproof but my water resistance is quite high, more than enough for a little rain. If there's a lot, I'll just work from home."

I all but shoved them into the car, holding the driver's door open a moment longer. "You remember the way to the Superstore right? I'll meet you there. Rob said there's still half a tank left so that should be good for tonight."

I let them leave first, and locked up the house. I took off into the setting sun, and tried to follow them visually as they maneuvered through the suburban labyrinth. I quickly gave up as the dimming light was killing my super vision. Instead, I swung around and set my sights on the bright lights of the supermarket parking lot.

As I had planned, the market was fairly quiet. Thursday evenings after the dinner rush tended to be dead. With a long weekend coming, it was a bit busier than normal, but the crowd size was tolerable, especially for my first real random public interaction. I did a running landing on an empty stretch of sidewalk outside the store, and waited for my parents. I tried to stay mostly in the shadows away from the entrance to avoid attention. When I saw them heading to the entrance, I came out to join them.

Immediately I felt eyes focusing on me and heard whispers. Mainly it was expressions of surprise and curiosity, though I noticed a few people moving away faster. I entered the store and stood to one side while dad grabbed a shopping cart, trying to look more confident than I felt. I wing-waved at the small jam of surprised people leaving the checkout area.

"You guys have the lists, go ahead and start getting things. I think I have to do some preemptive damage control," I told my parents. I could see a couple of workers chatting and heard a call out for a manager to the entrance.

"You sure you don't want us to stay close?" mom asked.

"No, this is a griffon issue that I need to settle myself. Don't worry, I'll be fine."

I saw the manager approaching from the far end of the checkouts. I made sure I wasn't blocking the entrance and waited.

The manager stopped and took a moment to look at me closer. I waited for him to speak first.

"Good evening, Ms Skyfire. Welcome to our store. Can we help you with anything?" he asked.

"Skyfire is fine," I corrected him, not even noticing being called a Ms. "I'm surprised you recognized me."

He smiled, "You've been sighted in the skies all over here, so we figured you had to be local. You just won my store a pizza party by showing up here first instead of the Sobeys or the other places. Assuming this is your first store?"

"Congratulations, you're my first. And you're right, I do live in the area, and I'm going to need food and other things regularly. I'd prefer to do my own shopping as much as possible, but I'll probably need to hire a delivery service to send it home. That won't be a problem will it?"

The manager looked me over again, then shook his head. "Well technically, there is one problem," he said pointing at my feet. "No shoes, no service. But in your case, I think we can bend the rules for now."

I lifted a paw and wiggled my toes. I flexed them to briefly show my claws before putting my foot down. "Thank you. They're still figuring out a decent sandal design that works for us, but when I can get some, I'll be sure to wear them in the future."

"Then welcome again. If you need help with anything, feel free to ask."

"I will, but I doubt I will need much help; I'm familiar with the store." I stepped forward and offered a hand. "Thank you for the warm welcome."

He hesitated, then took my scaled hand. I squeezed gently and let it go. "One more thing, I'm trying to keep a somewhat low profile. I know I can't hide, but I don't want to be mobbed when I go out either. So I'll probably come out in the evenings when it is quieter, at least until people get used to griffons among us."

"Of course. If you have any problems during your visits, please just ask for me and we'll help you out."

"Thanks again. Enjoy your pizza party."

The rest of the shopping trip went by uneventfully. We didn't find a turkey at the size we wanted, but we were able to get most everything else. I allowed a few people to take pictures with me along the way, mostly teenagers who were both curious and thrilled to meet a griffon.

As we checked out, there seemed to be an abnormal number of calls over the speakers. I realized more and more workers were hanging out in the checkout area.

"Excuse me," I told my parents as I left our cash.

I spotted the manager who quickly looked away and tried to look innocent. I smirked inwardly and shook my head. "We're about to leave, is there something else you may have wanted?" I asked the manager.

He looked back at me, but didn't meet my eyes. "No, not at all, Skyfire. I hope you had a good shopping experience tonight. The holidays can be a bit hectic, even on the quiet nights."

I nodded in agreement, and could tell there was something else he wanted but didn't want to ask. "If you wanted a photo, all you had to do is ask," I said, making an obvious guess.

"Are you sure? I don't want to impose on you."

"It's only fair, I won you the bet after all. Might as well give you proper proof. How about we set up around the stairs over there?"

It took a few minutes to set up with the available staff, and to snap the pictures. I posed with a few others that wanted it. I recognized many of the staff from my pre-change shopping trips, but they certainly didn't recognize me yet, and I was okay with that. I escaped out of the store and tracked down my parents as they loaded the car.

"Well, that went better than I expected," I said, grabbing a bag filled with cans. I hefted it, trying to think of how it would feel to fly with a load like that. It didn't feel like it would be a good flight.

"That looked like it went really well. You were expecting worse?" mom asked.

"I've been hearing stories from the local group. Other griffons are having problems in stores, not being allowed in, or having other people chase them out. All things considered, I've been incredibly lucky. And Skyfire becoming locally famous doesn't hurt."

"I know you Simon, you want to help, don't you?" she said.

I sighed and leaned against the car. "Of course I do, but I don't know what to do most of the time. I'm barely holding it together myself, and knowing so many more are worse off. They've lost jobs, lost homes, lost friends, family. They can't get anything to wear; and they can't find the help they need. Hell, I haven't even seen another griffon in person since I got home, but knowing they're out there, in the city...."

I felt mom and dad hug me without hesitation. "I'm sure you're doing what you can. But be careful, don't overextend. You can't do everything."

"I know, I know. Skyfire's doing all she can to help, but there's so little out there, or at least it's tough to get here it seems."

From the corner of my eyes, I saw my parents exchange concerned looks.

"Just don't forget yourself. Take care of yourself or you won't be able to help anyone," dad cautioned me.

"This may not be very tactful but, does your work cover psychological visits? After all you've been through and how you described what happened, I think it would help," mom suggested.

"You're worried about Skyfire, aren't you?"

"Among many other things. We can't begin to think of what you are going through, but we want you to be happy and healthy, that's the important thing."

I hugged them with my wings since they were close. "Don't worry, I'm going to look after myself too. As for Skyfire, she's helping me cope. I don't know if it's healthy or not, but it's helping me and helping others."

"Of course, just make sure you talk about it with someone later. Let's head home."

Once home, we called Bev to let her know things were good, and just chatted for a long time. Eventually, the jetlag caught up to my parents and they turned in for the evening. Skyfire spent a bit of time helping before I decided to konk out as well.

Friday, October 6

The icy goddess appeared in the cloudfield again. He started towards me, but I turned away.

"No. Not today. Not now. I've got guests," I told him. I turned away before just the vision of him caused reactions I didn't want.

The cloudscape faded away and I slipped back into a deeper sleep.

I woke slowly for the first time in days, not panting, not in the throes of mental masturbation passion, not covered in a mess. I was able to just rest, half awake. I could hear soft talking from the spare bedroom across the landing. If I focused, I could make out my parents quietly talking about me, worried for me. I flicked my ears and tuned it out, not wanting to eavesdrop. I understood their concern, but knew it was just something I had to work through. Hopefully work through without a complete mental breakdown.

My id wasn't happy about being denied. Despite my rejection, I could still feel some excitement in my loins, a moistness and eagerness for something. I mentally pushed that away as well, and just focused on my breathing and on pretending to sleep.

I heard someone get up and head to the bathroom, and figured it was dad. I sat up and did a quick preening to settle down my bed-feathers. My wings made sleeping on my back almost impossible, so I tended to sleep on my sides now, sometimes rolling onto my front through the night. It tended to make a mess of my feathers, especially on my head and neck.

Dad went downstairs, and the TV clicked on, switching to the news. The coffee machine started up soon after that. I pulled on a fresh top and a fresh pair of shorts; the last clean ones I had, I realized, and wandered down as well.

"Mornin'" I greeted him, glancing at the TV. The top story seemed to be about an earthquake somewhere in Mexico that shook things up with a death toll already approaching a hundred. While the tragedy was horrible, I was glad that the top story wasn't griffon related for a change.

"Mornin'" he answered, still mostly running on automatic. We worked around each other, preparing breakfast in silence. Mom came down after a bit, and got her own mug of coffee.

"So, aside from hunting turkeys, what's the plan for today?" I asked once we were conscious.

"Well, we figured we might want to help you, do what we can to make things more comfortable at least. Rebuilding the place is out, but maybe we can find some seats you find comfortable," mom said.

I groaned and shook my head. "You're not thinking of doing an Ikea run are you? You're insane, mom. It's a weekend... a LONG weekend even. Even if I wasn't wearing wings and tail feathers, I wouldn't go near Ikea, Costco or West Ed this weekend."

She looked disappointed, so I relented a bit. "Fine, if you really want to go, go. But I won't, not yet at least. If you see anything you think would work, send me pics and names and I'll check it out.

"That could work. If you're sure you don't want to join us," mom said.

"I'm nowhere near ready for crowds that big. I'm not sure I'll ever be. But it's early."

"So what will you do while we're out?" dad asked.

I pointed to my laptop set up in the living room. "Just what I have been doing. Gathering information and helping. I'll probably take a quick flight too."

I picked up my wrist phone holder and strapped it on, feeling more comfortable with it in place.

"Are you going for a flight now?" mom asked.

"Nah, I just feel better with this on." I slid the phone into place, and the screen lit up, showing a number of messages. "Excuse me, looks like someone's trying to get my attention...." I looked closer, "or rather they want Skyfire's attention."

I ignored their looks as I flipped the laptop open to more easily check the messages. I was being spammed it seemed. A stranger I'd never met before was reaching out on many of my public accounts, including Skyfire's new accounts and my Discord handle.

Hello. My name is Brian DeLong. I am a reporter with Global News Edmonton, and I'm doing a series of pieces on the local Griffons. I would like to speak with you about your experiences so far if you are willing.

"What is it?" mom asked as I started furiously researching.

"I'm not sure. A reporter wants to talk to me, a griffon-interest story I'd say," I replied. I quickly verified the name matched an actual reporter that had stories in the Edmonton area. He even had a recent story with a jay-griffon I was starting to know well. "I've got to make a call," I said, already hitting the call button.

"Okay, we'll stay out of your way," mom said, still hovering just a bit too close.

The blue jay griffon popped onto my screen as if she was expecting me to call. "Good morning Skyfire. I think I know why you're calling."

"Morning Michelle. Yeah, you're probably guessing right. He's rather aggressive in reaching out to me."

She laughed, "Well, you'd be quite the catch for him, so I'm not surprised he's using all means he can find to reach out."

"So he's legit? And is he someone we would want to talk to? My company tends to keep me as far from the press as possible, but I've been around the block long enough to know you should be careful around them."

"He's good, he's certainly an ally if that's what you're asking. Full disclosure, he's my cousin. He's got a whole brood of related griffons down in Elkwater who'd be really unhappy if he made things harder for us."

"Did you suggest me to him?" I asked.

"Maybe... It seemed like a good idea, but if you aren't ready, I'm sure he'd be willing to wait."

I nodded, "I'll have to think on it. It's a bit sudden but could be helpful. I'll see you tomorrow."

"Sure, see you tomorrow... wait what?"

I smirked and disconnected. I'd been saying I wouldn't make the griffon gathering on Saturday, but, spur of the moment, I decided I was going to go. I'd gone too long without seeing another griffon, and I needed some contact. And I wanted a better feel of the people I wanted to help. I turned away from the screen, pensive.

"He sounds like a good fellow," mom noted. "If you trust her."

"I don't know Michelle well, but in this matter I'll trust her. I'll see if he's available this afternoon, while you guys are out shopping."

"You sure you don't want us to be there? For support?" mom asked.

I shook my head, "No, this is a Skyfire matter, not a Simon matter. I appreciate the thought, but I think I need to do this myself."

They looked worried so I distracted them by bringing up the Ikea website on the TV to get an idea of what they might look for. From Skyfire's account, I contacted Brian and made an appointment to meet up at Pinecones to talk and maybe have an interview.

Around noon, my parents set off to brave the stores. Even if I were still human, I wouldn't dream of going there on a weekend; but as they were only up for the weekend, they had no choice.

About half an hour before my scheduled appointment, I checked my appearance, did some touchup preening, and set off. A young man was already at the statue, setting up a branded camera on a tripod in a spot out of the main traffic flow, but otherwise giving a nice background. He had dark hair and a network-branded windbreaker jacket on.

"Head's up," I called out, doing a relatively low pass over the reporter. He looked up and waved, watching while I turned around and lined up for a running landing.

"I don't think I'll ever NOT be amazed by seeing that. I'm Brian," he introduced himself.

"I'm..." I paused for a moment. "I'm Skyfire," I said, offering my talons.

"Just Skyfire?" he asked. "Don't worry, we're off the record for now. I want to talk with you a bit before anything official."

I nodded after a moment's thought. "Yeah, just Skyfire will do. I'd prefer to leave Simon out of this. She's the one who tends to handle this sort of thing now."

"Certainly. If you don't mind me asking, I just want to check on some details to make sure I don't slip up too badly. Is this a deadname situation, or more of a secret identity type thing?"

"Closer to secret identity I think. As you saw, it's not all that hard to link us together. But I'm finding it easier to let Skyfire deal with griffon related things, and Simon deals with the everyday things."

He made a few notes on a notepad. "Not on the records, just some reminders to myself so I can correct any mistakes I might make. What about pronouns? You were male before, but you called Skyfire 'she' just now."

"It bugged me before, calling me her that is. But I'm coming around to it. Biology and physiology makes it hard to deny. So use whatever fits the conversation."

He jotted down another note. "Speaking of biology, any initial thoughts on the female peak that is coming?" He saw my head tilt and smiled, "Yes, I've done my research and kept up to date with the latest."

"It's a bit scary, but it's unavoidable. I'm running late, so I guess I'll know what to expect after tomorrow; but I'm not sure if that's better or worse"

"Right, right. Sorry if I pried a bit too much. Now, as for why I contacted you, I'm doing griffon-interest stories; I want to put some names and personalities to the local griffons. Hopefully to make the rest of us realize you're still human where it matters and to fight any Us vs You feelings that might be percolating."

"Michelle said as much, and said I could trust you. You're her cousin?"

"That I am. My clan is from Elkwater, but I escaped long ago. It's just luck that I wasn't there and got the feathers like you."

He checked the camera and offered me a mic to speak into. "Now, if you're ready, we can start. You're going to be the focus of the segment I'm making, so we'll probably repeat the questions a few times and try different angles. Don't worry about answering wrong, just say what you feel."

I gulped, feeling camera shy now that it was about to start. "I'm ready."

He first set up the position he wanted me to answer from, making sure I was framed properly. He then chased me off and told me to wait for his signal to walk in. We then filmed a few introductions, some with me already in the scene, others with me walking in.

"Times like this, I really wish I had a cameraperson," Brian grumbled and set us up for the main interview. "But I'll piece something together that should work. Don't worry, you did nothing wrong. It should get easier from here. Just pretend the camera isn't there and answer how you want."

"I'm ready," I confirmed.

"Skyfire, without going into too many details, how would you describe your experiences since you Changed?" he started.

"Lucky," I answered without hesitation. "At the time, I didn't realize how good I have it, but I've been hearing the experiences of others, and I now realize how good I have it. I was caught in the American safety net, which is a strange thing to say, but it's the truth in this case. It helped me through the first few days and gave me connections both for information and for supplies.

"I also have both financial security and work security. My bosses assured me that my position was secure when I returned; I've got a healthy savings account to handle these expenses, and I am a homeowner, so my bed is secure.

"Then, when quarantine ended, I was lucky in that I had two fantastic friends who were willing to come down and bring me and my car home. They were willing to risk going into what had become possibly dangerous territory to bring me out and bring me home.

"And finally, my family has been supportive of me from the get go. They are all out of province, but my parents have come up for the weekend to help me out further and just help me keep ahold of who I was while I'm figuring out who I am now.

"So yeah, I was damn lucky."

Brian gave a brief nod and held the silence for a moment to give him a nice cut point. "Good answer," he said.

"You were in Fort Parker when you changed, how would you compare the American response to the Canadian one?"

"Night and day, and we were very much in the night up here," I answered. "It's said the US Military is constantly planning, even the impossible scenarios like alien invasions and zombie outbreaks. Titan's Step caught them flat footed like it caught all of us by surprise. But they clearly learned lessons from it and have been planning all summer.

"Now, when Fort Parker happened, they were there that night and legit helpful by the time we were waking up. It was amazing to see, and it's still going on. I made connections down there that are helping me, helping all of us on both sides of the border now.

"But up here, the response was frustrating; it's still frustrating. It was days before outside support got into Elkwater and other affected towns. It was like the governments shut the door on 40,000 Canadians and wanted to pretend we weren't there.

"And even now, there seems to be a reluctance to do anything. They provided rides to help people get home; but there's been very little support once we got home. We're looking out for ourselves just for the basics. Take the clothes I'm wearing now. They had designers working on our new physiology by Tuesday, and patterns going out by Wednesday. Amazon's already got a dozen vendors shipping to us, all American basically. For those up here, we have to order from down south or hope we can find our own seamstress to sew up a new wardrobe.

"Now I'm not expecting the governments to supply our new clothes. But it would have helped a lot to get the framework in place so we can find and get what we need."

He nodded again.

"You've been active on the Edmonton Support group. What is your feeling about it?"

"It's filled with good people who need a lot of help. I didn't realize how lucky I was until I started reading their stories. So many people lost their jobs during quarantine. Others have been abandoned by their friends and family. More have lost their homes or are about to lose them. It's a scary time for most griffons, especially with winter coming fast."

"So, 'Skyfire'. That obviously wasn't your original name."

"You sure about that?" I winked at the camera and made him chuckle.

"How did it come about? Why did you decide to go by it?"

"Like many things nowadays, the name was given to me by the internet, for obvious reasons." I gave a quick wing spread. "I didn't even realize I had been labelled that way until I was coming home to Edmonton. It gained some more traction when I stretched my wings over Drumheller, but I wasn't sure I was ready to embrace it. After more sleeps and seeing the impact Skyfire has had, I've decided it is a good thing. Ultimately, even my plumage was another lucky element of my change that I didn't really realize at the time."

"How are people reacting to Skyfire in general?"

"Very well overall. I haven't sought out big crowds, but my friends have been accepting and supportive so far. I'll be returning to work next week and am hoping for a similar acceptance; everyone is well aware of my condition."

"Good to hear," Brian paused the recording to take some notes and figure out some more questions.

The interview continued on for about half an hour. None of the questions were particularly hard. I could answer them easily and it helped me hone my own thoughts on the situation. We wrapped up with a few shots of me taking off, though I just circled out of camera view and landed.

"That's great. Thank you for your answers," Brian said. "One last detail, I need you to sign a release form for the interview, just legal details."

I scrawled my signature on it, Simon Skyfire Farell. "Thanks for the questions, it was surprisingly helpful for me. Makes me eager to go meet the locals tomorrow too."

"Meet the locals? Michelle's support meeting?"

"Exactly. I haven't seen another griffon IRL since we left the Hat. With my parents in town, I was going to skip, but now I realize it's important to show up, touch wings and just solidify these friendships."

"Damn, I wish I was recording. Oh well, I've got more than enough content."

I offered my hand. "Well, thank you for listening to me. I hope your article works well. I think we both want the same thing, so maybe my luck will spread and light some fires."

"That's certainly my intent, and why Michelle urged me to contact you. She's seen a lot of what you've seen, and you both seem to want to light some fires as you said.

"One last thing, off the record and for my own curiosity; can you give me some context on this picture?" He brought up the picture of my Moltres capture on Wednesday.

I chuckled, "I'm sure you remember Pokemon Go from years ago. We still have a decent group playing around here, and I showed up last week. The kids got quite a kick out of it."

I explained more about the event and how it regularly happened. Brian was clearly disappointed to have missed it, but I assured him we'd be back on Wednesday, probably with more people now that the word was out.

Saturday, October 7

My goddess left me completely alone, but I didn't sleep in. Two weeks, I was two weeks in my new body with no sign of it changing back. I dressed and went downstairs to get a bite to eat and catch up, perching on a new stool mom and dad had picked up for me. The sun rose slowly, showing a heavy frost on the ground outside.

Dad was always an early riser, and was probably still a bit jet lagged. So I wasn't surprised to see him sleepily wander down. He yawned and shivered, hugging himself. "Morning. Is there a problem with your heating?"

"Nope, I had it tuned up in August. It should be fine. Is it cold?"

He checked the thermostat. "It's a bit cool.... No wonder, it's still in summer mode. I know you've always liked it cool, but isn't this a bit much?"

"Well, September was warmer than usual, and I try to hold off the heat as long as I can stand it. Start of October is usually when I'd pump it up, but it honestly didn't feel that cold to me. It feels quite comfortable here actually."

He looked at me, and filled his coffee mug. "You're comfortable? All you have is basically a t-shirt and shorts on."

I fiddled with the controls, setting a warmer baseline temperature to make sure I wouldn't unintentionally freeze my pipes. "And if I didn't have company around, I'd probably not even have those," I said, turning back to him. I ruffled the feathers of my bicep. "Got a built in downy layer here that keeps me quite warm."

We sat quietly with our thoughts, going through the breakfast motions.

"So, what do you want to do today? Aside from your big meeting?" Dad finally asked.

"Honestly, I'm not sure. We've got everything for dinner tomorrow, and I appreciate the stools you got for me. But I'm not sure what we can do today. Maybe mom will have some ideas?"

He looked around. "Well what about your house? Any adjustments we could do to make things better for you?"

I gave it some deeper thought. "Let's see.... I'm still mostly normal shaped, I don't need the extensive renos like the Titans need, thank goodness. Down here, it's already open-concept; it feels fine. Maybe we could change some of the door knobs to levers. The round ones can be a little awkward I guess?"

Dad nodded and got a little notebook he used for reminders. "What else?"

My bedroom is fine, it's got lots of space. The other bedrooms are a bit small, but they're for you, not for me. The bathroom is a bit tight but usable. I think I'll be looking to knock out my closet and expand it to get a bigger tub and shower in there."

"That's a bit much to tackle in a weekend," Dad noted, chuckling.

"Yeah, that's a spring task for certain. But the toilet might be something we can do. I've always hated the shape of that one, and now it's just too short for how I go now."

Dad paused and seemed to be trying to decide if he wanted to know more, or if it was TMI already. We went over a few other ideas, but decided those two would be the best short term improvements.

I went around to do a quick count of the door handles I wanted to swap, while dad went to wake up mom. I checked online and decided Home Depot had the ones I might like best. The closest one was in a nearby Big Box neighbourhood that also included Ikea, but I figured they were separated enough and it was early enough that crowding shouldn't be an issue.

We set off on our shopping excursion just after ten. Taking the literal high way (instead of the highway), I easily got to the shopping district long before they did. I circled high overhead, assessing the crowds. Ikea was jammed packed as usual, as was Walmart and Sobeys. Canadian Tire was surprisingly busy for this time of the morning, but most of the rest of the stores seemed quiet. Home Depot had a fair number of cars in the lot but didn't seem too bad.

I longingly looked at the roof, wanting to land and wait there. Back down at Fort Parker, roofs had quickly become meeting spots; it was so easy to take a step off and get back into the air from them that it was just a natural habit. Back in the normal world though, I was constantly fighting that urge, not sure how most places would take to having visitors hanging out upstairs.

I watched the parking lot as my parents headed to the store, waiting for a lull in traffic before coming down. The last thing I wanted to do was cause an accident by surprising someone. People just weren't used to looking up, let alone having pedestrians drop out of the sky.

"Behind you," I called out, landing and jogging to catch up. My ears twitched over, hearing a screech of brakes a lane over, but there was no crunch of an accident.

As we walked through the doors, I took the lead and tried to appear more confident than I felt. I straightened up enough that I could feel my tail feathers drag on the floor. I also very slightly spread my wings so they were noticeable but not in the way. Like the trip to the grocery store, the store fell silent as everyone in range noticed me.

"Good day, welcome to Home Depot. Can I help you find anything?" the greeter said, speaking a bit faster than normal as she stared at me.

"I'm doing a few adjustments to make my home easier on me, and putting my parents to work to help me," I explained, waving a wing towards mom who was fetching a cart. The greeter's eyes followed the wing movement automatically. "For now, just a few simple things. I'm looking for a half dozen lever door handles, indoor style."

She shook her head and looked away. "Door knobs right. You can find those over there in Aisle 15. If we don't have enough on the shelf, just ring for an associate. Is there anything else?"

"Sure, I'm also looking for a new toilet." I lifted and spread my tail feathers at the same time, drawing her eyes down. As I'd anticipated, I saw her pause, having a brief blue-screen moment.

"Toilets are in Aisle 35, but...." she looked at me again, "but I'm not sure we have anything in stock that would work with your physiology."

"I would be mighty impressed if you did. I'm pretty sure they're still workshopping designs for us. For now, I just need something better than I have now. The one I've got now is too small and too round; I've got some ideas in mind, I just need to see and pick."

The greeter relaxed and smiled, "Well, we'll do our best to help you. There should be associates in the area ready to help you out and maybe offer suggestions you haven't considered yet."

We thanked her and made our way into the store. I saw heads turning and caught whispers, but I was still well in the 'curious rare sighting' stage, and not the 'familiarity breeds contempt' stage. I hoped I never really got into the later stage.

As we picked out the handles, an unusual number of people seemed to go past the ends of the aisle, or had excuses to go down adjacent aisles. Few were brave enough to actually go past me, but plenty were curious. Plenty of pictures were taken, ranging from the subtle phone at their side tap, to the blatant stop in the middle of the aisle and 'say cheese!' call out. I was just thankful that we were in a hardware store and not at Walmart or Canadian Tire; there were not many children around to mob me.

An associate was waiting for me in the toilet section, and to my surprise, he had already pulled out a few in the styles I was considering. The display toilets were all set up on an eye level shelf, so actually 'trying' them was out of the question, but seeing them in person helped me further narrow down what I wanted. While trying to decide between the final two, I spotted the associate's tablet on a box to the side. He had loaded a site I was very familiar with, and it helped explain how he had prepared for my arrival. He seemed extra proud when I acknowledged his insightful planning. I made my choice and we were able to finish up and leave without further ado.

The rest of the day passed in a blur of whirring drills, clicking ratchets, grunts and frustrated curses. I focused on the doorknobs, and found them annoying as hell. Using the drill as a screwdriver wasn't very difficult, but the dexterity of holding screws and hardware in place when you have huge honking nails on the ends of your fingers was almost beyond me, even with all the practice I'd been getting over the past few weeks.

The toilet replacement I had to leave up to dad, which he tackled with gusto, glad to have something to do. While my bathroom was big enough for everyday use, the space around the toilet was barely big enough for two people to work. And my wings and tail always counted as a plus-one whenever body counts were made.

By four, the old toilet was in a big garbage bag in the garage, ready for me to call for a pickup eventually; and the old door handles were in a box ready to be dropped off for donation. I gulped down some water while watching mom prepare vegetables for tomorrow's dinner.

"Are you sure I can't get you anything for dinner?" I asked again. Michelle had confirmed there would be food at the meeting, but I didn't want to leave my parents hungry.

"We'll be fine. We have the car, we know what's around, and we know what's in the fridge. Don't worry about us."

I watched her dump potatoes in a pot and start filling it with water. "I know, I know. I just feel bad leaving you this evening. You're only up for a few days, and I'm leaving you behind for one of them."

She set the pot on the stove and turned and hugged me. There was no hesitation any more. "Go. We understand why you are going. And you need to be among your kind as much as around us."

I hugged her back, both arms and wings. "I hate this talk of 'kinds'. Feels like a dangerous path to step on," I mumbled.

"It can be a slippery slope, but it fits in this case. You just have to be extra careful around it."

I held her for a long moment, drawing in some of her strength, before letting her go. On the dining room table, I had my empty backpack and a pile of things I was trying to decide if I wanted or needed to bring to the meeting. The meeting itself was intended to be a simple meet and greet, but I suspected I might need to do a bit more to help out my fellow local griffons.

"That doesn't look very comfortable," dad noted as I slipped my arms into the straps.

I pulled the straps tight, the pack squeezing tight against my breasts and chest. "It isn't. It throws me off balance, makes flying all that much harder and it literally rubs my nipples the wrong way. But we don't have a better way to carry things in the air yet."

Dad turned red and looked away, while mom laughed from the kitchen. I stretched and wiggled a bit, settling the backpack into position a bit better and making sure my wings wouldn't be too impeded. I clipped my phone into my wrist bracer, and adjusted my new altimeter next to it so I could see them both clearly in flight.

"Right, I'm ready," I said. I beak-kissed mom and gave dad a quick hug. "I'm just at the Castle Inn. It's near West Ed. You guys have the address and contacts. I don't know how long I'll be, so don't wait up."

"Have fun dear, and don't worry about us. Go make some new friends and help them out."

The flight was the longest flight I'd taken since leaving Fort Parker, and the first time I'd crossed the river. I climbed up to our ceiling limit and just took in the city lit by a sun rushing towards the western horizon. I took the time to settle my thoughts and get into a Skyfire mindset.

It was still early by the time I found the Castle Inn. It was an older hotel with a large convention room built a few klicks away from the city's most famous mall. I circled high above it, but there didn't seem to be much activity there yet.

Curious and with time to kill, I flipped around and decided to scout out the mall. The commercial parts were slowly winding down for the evening, but the other areas were still busy. I spotted a lot of cars outside the theatre, another bunch at the hotel and a third big cluster outside the casino. Considering my Vegas vacation had been interrupted, I was sorely tempted to drop in for a few hands of blackjack but decided to save that for another time.

I spotted movement in the air, and thought it was just another bird. After not seeing other griffons for so long, I'd almost forgotten what others would be like. When I focused on her, I recognised Michelle's blue-gray jay colouring. For the first time I could also see her lower half, and confirmed she was a jay-lynx, with a handsome colouring. Not quite as gorgeous as the icy goddess my id teased me with, but good looking in my new eyes.

She was flying a lot lower than me, heading towards the hotel. I switched directions and started heading towards her. It soon became obvious that she was focusing on the ground and not the air around her. I was in plain sight and coming right for her, and she didn't react at all.

When I felt I was close enough, I leaned forward into a dive and folded my wings back, stretching my feet out along my spread out tail feathers. My heart pounded faster, feeling the cold wind whip through my feathers and fur, my vision a little blurred from my closed inner eyelid. I let out a happy screech that finally made her look up and spot me. She backwinged sharply in surprise and somehow managed to stay in the air. I snapped my wings out, feeling them strain to catch the air and stop my drop at her level. I did a quick loop around her and matched her speed.

"God damn it! You gave me a heart attack!" she called out once we were side by side.

"Sorry, I couldn't resist. It's been too long since I did a good dive. A great way to get the blood pumping."

"Well, you certainly got my blood pumping. Good to finally meet you, Skyfire."

"Same for you, Michelle. The screens certainly don't do us justice."

I quickly realized that I had to slow down a lot more than I was used to cruising at. Even at the slower speed, Michelle was straining to keep up. I looked her over closer, noting she was dressed in unaltered clothing, with a stretchy sports bra top that dug too deep into her back, and shorts that were a good gust from sliding off. Every few flaps she would reach down to tug them up. Her feathers were in a rough state as well; she was preening, but she either didn't have the right tools, or she hadn't figured out the right methods yet. It was a wonder she could stay in the air at all. I began to have an uneasy suspicion about the state of the Edmonton colony.

I saw her eyes scanning the roads below as we went, and realized she was looking for someone.

"Looking for someone?"

"Brian. He's my wheelman for tonight. He's picking up the food and drinks so we could set things up before everyone shows up. I'm still early but I was hoping he would be too."

I pointed to the hotel roof. The hotel was five stories tall, built in the 90's to try and feed off the mall's excess. The roof was a standard flat rooftop, covered in gravel with a half dozen air exchangers. "I don't normally like to roof perch without permission, but I think we can make an exception for tonight. Let's land and wait, we can watch from up top."

She nodded in agreement, seemingly relieved by the suggestion. She seemed to drop down as fast as my dive, landing a bit too hard and having to catch herself on paws and talons. I circled once more to make sure she was okay, then came in, doing a slight running landing. It wasn't anything special, but she seemed impressed by it.

"You're so confident in the air; it looks like you've been flying for more than two weeks," she said. She wasn't looking at me, but I could tell she was watching me.

I shrugged and gave the roads a quick scan. As far as I could tell, no one had noticed our landing. "I had a lot of practice, down in Fort Parker. I ended up staying with a new friend on the other side of town, but most of my days were spent at the camp."

I couldn't resist any longer and unzipped my backpack. I dug out some of my brushes and approached her. "Please, give me a few minutes. You look like a mess."

She eyed me warily, looking at the tools in my hands, then nodded and turned away. I took the invitation and started on the back of her head. Her feathers were dry and tangled, a state due to improper preening. Back in quarantine, we had bird experts literally on call and eventually in person to help us figure out proper feather maintenance. Our dream infodump had included the basic instincts, but the fine details had been left for us to figure out. While numerous videos had been made to help everyone not around Fort Parker, nothing really beat learning it directly and lots of practice.

Starting about even with her furry ears, I dug my talons into her feathers, getting down to her scalp, and started gently drawing them out, a mix of combing and scalp massage. I steadily worked my way down her scalp and her shoulders, taking the moment to enjoy being with another griffon after so long. After a few minutes, Michelle let out a soft groan, and I felt the tension she'd been holding relax. I also felt a stirring down below, and mentally slapped my id to keep it focused. I might be near peak female, whatever that meant, but this was purely platonic friendship preening.

"You haven't quite been preening right. It's tough to do it solo but it is doable with the right tools. Make sure you get in deep, we sweat the oils we need to keep the feathers good, so if we aren't bringing those oils out, you get two problems, messy down and dry feathers," I explained as I worked. I reached the edge of her top and was sorely tempted to just tear it off.

"Take this off," I ordered instead.

"What?" she asked, refocusing in the moment. I suspected I knew where her mind was going, especially since she'd be near peak male, but I wasn't looking that far down.

I tugged her top again. "Take this off. I'd say it's about two sizes too small for you, and pullovers suck for us anyway. Zippers are an ally and velcro is our best friend."

Very reluctantly she pulled her top off. I watched her furry breasts bounce a bit then looked away. I passed a brush ahead. "Here, work on your furry parts. Make sure you brush from the skin out, our fur is actually another type of feathers and basically needs similar care."

I set to work on her back, especially the part that had been pressed down by her top. We lost track of time as we worked on her. I focused on the parts that were hard to reach, and offered tips from my own experience. I was just finishing her tail feathers, when we were interrupted by a ringing phone. We both jumped in surprise, separating like teenagers caught cuddling. We started laughing as she dug her phone out of her pocket.

"Hey Brian, where are you?" she answered.

"I'm outside the hotel, I've been waiting about five minutes now. Are you okay? You don't sound like you're flying."

"I'm not. I've been hanging out on the roof with Skyfire. We'll be right down." She hung up and pocketed the phone.

"Thanks, I feel wonderful," she said, stretching her wings out.

"Glad to help. It took a lot of practice to sort it out, but it does feel good. I bet you're feeling warmer too."

"I am, but I figured it was your closeness and peak male."

I glanced away, slightly embarrassed. I knew what she meant, I was feeling hotter and not just due to my down. "That may be a thing. But your down feathers were a mess and that not only affects your flying, it affects your heat retention too."

I motioned to the edge of the roof while putting my brushes back in my pack. "I'd race you to the ground, but I don't think you're quite ready for that flying skill. But take off, I'm sure you'll find it a lot easier, a lot more natural. I basically just gave you a flight tuneup."

She jumped off the roof top and soon zoomed up above the roofline. She let out a happy screech that echoed around the parking lot. I peeked over the edge and saw a lot of people looking up, shading their eyes. I jumped off as well and caught up to her. I could tell from her face that flying was different, smoother, easier than before. She had no trouble keeping up with my normal flight speed as we did a few laps around the building.

I spotted her cousin standing beside a van near a side entrance. He was watching us, smiling. I led her back down to ground level, getting ahead of her so I hit the ground first. I did a quick twist and caught her as she hit the ground, going much faster than she was used to.

"Incredible. I don't think I'll ever get used to seeing that. Hi Skyfire, good to see you again. Michelle, you're absolutely radiant."

Michelle was panting, leaning against me for support, body still shaking from exhilaration. "I feel incredible. I didn't think flying was like that. Thanks Sky."

I gave her a quick hug while shoving my id back into its cage. I could tell Michelle was feeling her 'peak-maleness' but hadn't realized it yet. "Yeah, proper preening is important. It turns us from junkers to Ferrari's in the air."

"And you learned all this from Fort Parker?" she asked, finally straightening up and stepping away from me.

"I did. Most of it on the fly. Thousands of griffons and all the experts they could get for us helped out, but there was a hella lot of trial and error going on. Still going on. You were in Elkwater, didn't you have anything like that?"

She gave a bitter laugh. "We wish. Mostly it was the army and Mounties figuring out who we were and trying to keep us in one area, while letting us access the information coming out of your town. There was so much coming out, we couldn't make heads nor tails of a lot of it. Local experts would certainly have helped."

"Well I guess I qualify as a local expert now, though I hadn't planned on it.We should probably get inside and start setting up."

Brian nodded, "I've already checked with the hotel and the room's opened. But uhm, there is one thing," he said. He tapped at his chest.

We both looked down, and Michelle cursed. She covered her breasts with her arms. "Oh shit! I left it up on the roof. I'll be right back!"

I quickly reached out and caught her wing before she could take off. "No, you can't put that back on. It's way too small and doesn't fit right. And it messes up your feathers, practically crippling your flight worthiness. It would be like trying to run a car on crude oil."

"But I can't go around like this!"

"Why not?" I asked, feeling impulsive. I let go of her and wiggled out of my pack. With a couple of quick tugs, I tore open the velcro holding my top in place and pulled it off. "It's not illegal in Canada after all. All the griffons have them, and we certainly don't need to wear tops for support or protection."

"But..." she struggled to come up with an argument.

"Some of the Titans I met encouraged me, encouraged us Griffons, to set our own standards and not to feel obligated to follow human norms. Tonight, we're holding a griffon conclave. And I decree that if you want to be topless, you can go topless."

"Brian?" she asked, seeking a second opinion.

The reporter held up his hands in surrender. "This has to be your choice, cuz. I'm just an innocent bystander. I am male, so seeing beautiful breasts is admittedly a nice view, but ultimately it comes down to what you are comfortable with."

"I'll be honest, you were a woman before, you're more used to handling these than me, and especially knowing how people react to them in general. I was a guy, going topless was second nature for me. So if you do decide you want to cover up, I can lend you one of my tops. It should fit better than what you had."

Michelle looked at herself, then at me, then at Brian, clearly struggling to decide.

Brian looked at me, making sure he kept his eyes locked on mine. "This seems rather spur of the moment. Is this a Skyfire choice or a Simon choice?" he asked.

"Skyfire all the way," I laughed. "Simon's sure it's best to not shake things up with the human types as much as possible, and is thinking I'm going too far."

He gave me a quizzical look, and I realized how that sounded. It was also the truth. My head was getting crowded, but the id was cheering me on from its cage, while Simon and Future-Simon were glaring at me, promising that we would have words when the night was over. I shushed him, telling him he willingly gave me the night after all.

"What the hell. It's a new life, a new age. Let's set the new rules now," Michelle said. "Now, let's get this food inside before people get here."

The convention room was a large room in the centre of the hotel. The ceilings were almost high enough to fly in, if you dodged the huge chandeliers. Tables were set up along one wall for us to set the food trays on. Water stations were scattered all around the edge of the room, filled with fresh ice water and trays of glasses. It didn't take long to ferry our supplies in from the van.

"Right, I think that's everything. I'll bring this stuff over to the Friend Zone and see who shows up. Have fun tonight, ladies," Brian said. He had a cart with a few of the trays and a selection of drinks.

"Friend zone?" I asked as he left.

"We rented a second room for allies. Aside from hotel staff, this room is Griffon-only now. But if you had a human friend who is helping, they can go to the Friend Zone and talk about us with other griffon friends."

"Good thinking. I should've paid more attention to the planning. Not that I had anyone I was going to invite, at least not this time."

There was a knock at the entrance, and we both turned, seeing a hotel worker in a suit standing there. He took the gaze of two eagles without flinching. "Good evening, welcome to Castle Inn. I am Chris, the special events coordinator. I just wanted to see if you have everything you needed." His eyes briefly looked down at us, but he didn't react to our naked breasts.

"Thank you for hosting us. I think we have most everything we need.... Well maybe a few trays of ice could be useful? With scoops so we can ice the drinks? The Friend Zone will probably need a tray or two as well."

"Of course. I'll have some set up right away. If you need anything else, just hit the Events button on the phone to get a hold of me." He gave a slight bow and left the room.

"Why do I get the feeling we're not the strangest event he's ever hosted?" I noted.

Michelle laughed, "I don't think we even hit his Top Ten. I picked this place carefully. It's got a great reputation for hosting small conventions while being very welcoming. They've hosted sex cons, furry cons and more. So these aren't the first breasts he's seen, furry or otherwise."

I stashed my pack under the podium at the head of the room, and grabbed a plate for snacks. I popped a chunk of swiss cheese into my beak and held it to get a better taste of it.

"Hello? I think this is the right place?"

I turned and saw another griffon at the entrance. She was a golden eagle with leopard spots. She wore an Oilers t-shirt with the bottom half roughly chopped off. Her shorts were held up by her hips and a belt. A young man and woman were with her.

"You here for the Tupperware party?" I called out. "We can get you some great deals. Just listen for the burp."

Michelle slapped me with a wing while I started laughing. "Please excuse Skyfire, there's a reason she hasn't met many yet," she said, walking over. "Welcome. I'm Michelle."

"I'm Mike, these are my roommates Luis and Jan."

"Welcome, come on in Mike, we're all friends here. The Friend Zone lounge is just down the hall there," Michelle said, becoming a host.

Mike's roommates gave her a pat that was partly a shove. I was still trying to figure out the age signs, but I figured she had to be university aged, judging from her roommates. I took a few steps from the food tables and motioned for her to help herself.

More griffons began to trickle in, most alone, a few in pairs, some with humans. I saw at least one kiss a pregnant woman before coming in. Most gladly stripped off their tops when they realized it was allowed in the room. I quickly realized there was a major problem forming and decided to take some action.

I snagged my bag and headed to the Friend Zone. A folding wall with doors separated our area from the Friend Zone, so I didn't have to leave the ballroom. Eyes turned towards me as I walked in.

"Hey Brian!" I called out, looking for him and ignoring the stares. He quickly excused himself from a conversation and came over.

"Hey Skyfire. Everyone, in case you didn't realize, this is Skyfire," he said introducing me. I waved a wing and smiled at the crowd. "Do you need something?"

I set my bag on a table and dug out my brush set. "I've got a big fav to ask of you. I'll pay you back, but I need you to go hit the dollar stores and get as many of each of these as you can. Walmart would probably work too. Maybe fifty of each."

"Dollar stores?" he asked, picking up one of them. He put it down and dug his phone out to take some pictures.

"Dollar stores," I confirmed. "I'm sure someone's already hawking a hundred buck griffon preening set online, but I got all these from a Dollar General in Fort Parker. Great Canadian or Dollarama should have similar ones I'm sure. These two I'd consider the most important, and this one is really good to have. The other two are handy but not all that needed."

He took some notes and put his phone away. "It's that bad I take it?" he said quietly.

"It's bad," I confirmed. "Looks like most of them are trying at least, but they haven't figured out a good way to care for themselves. So I'm going to be putting on an emergency clinic."

"Right, I'll be back in thirty. Hold the fort."

I thanked him and retreated to the Griffon Zone. There were about thirty of us there now, still ten minutes before the official start of the meet and greet. I leaned against the podium and surveyed the room. We were thirty random people with one common element and it showed. The more gregarious types were mingling and trying to forge links. Most stayed in their own bubbles and seemed uncertain about being there.

"Hey! Skyfire!" a bald eagle walked in and waved at me. I thought it was Paul until I saw she was a lynx type, complete with tufts on her ears. Unlike everyone else, she practically glowed from proper preening.

"Hi there," I called back, waving a wing. I didn't recognize them, but they seemed to know me somehow.

"I'm George Sinclair. We were in Fort Parker. Well we never met directly, but I saw you a lot around the camp."

I returned the offered fist bump and vaguely remembered some of the other bald eagles. "Hello," I repeated. "I'm sorry, I don't really remember you. There were a lot of baldies down there, and I only got to know one close."

"That's fair. To be honest, I spent most of my Q-time in my motel room. But it's good to see a familiar beak, even if it's just a passing acquaintance."

"True true. Hopefully we make more new friends here tonight."

I stepped back from the podium to let Michelle come up. She cleared her throat and waited for the room to quiet.

"Good evening everyone, and welcome. My name is Michelle DeLong, the leader of our Edmonton group. I have no real plan for tonight, I just wanted to give everyone a chance to meet other griffons, hopefully to make new friends and to share tips, and just to be comfortable around other griffons.

"There are about two hundred and twelve griffons that I know of in Edmonton. Not everyone could make it tonight, but hopefully they'll join us at future gatherings. I'm hoping to arrange weekly events, at least for the next few months. Give us a chance to mingle, do different things, and just support each other."

"In any case, let's go around the room and just give our names and anything else you might want to share."

She turned expecting me to be beside her, but found George there first. The bald eagle stepped up and waved her wing. "Hello everyone, I'm George Sinclair, and I spent my Q-time down in Fort Parker."

I waved as well. "Hi everyone, as you probably suspect, I'm the local phoenix celebrity known as Skyfire."

"Oh! We're supposed to use our made up names? Then I'm Blackpaw," a smart alec called from the room. The room erupted in laughter and I saluted her. The ice was broken and the rest of the introductions went smoothly. Some people were using new names, but most stuck with their original ones.

I was crowded once the introductions were done, with many people curious about me, about my confidence, and more random questions. I answered as best I could, while keeping an eye out for Brian. He didn't return until an hour into our gathering. He flagged me down from the door, standing next to a cart filled with boxes. I excused myself and went to see how he did.

"Any problems?" I asked, looking over the boxes. I recognized four of the brush types.

"I had to hit two Dollarama's and a Great Canadian, but no real problems otherwise. These are what you wanted?"

"They're perfect, thanks."

I took the cart and wheeled it over to an empty table. I opened the boxes and set them up, grouping like with like. Some came over and I told them to pick one of each type and hold onto them. Michelle looked over at me quizzically. I gave her a smile, and stepped to one side.

"Excuse me! Excuse me everyone! Can I have your attention please?" I called out, spreading my wings to make me more noticeable.

"I know we hadn't had anything planned, but looking around, I think it's time for an impromptu clinic on preening."

I looked around the room, seeing everyone looking my way. "Please excuse me while I proselytize for a minute, but after two weeks, I believe this is possibly one of the most important things we can do for our health, both physical health and mental health. I suspect George would agree with me on that."

"I suppose so," George called out, not sure what I was getting at.

I nodded to him and continued. "So, we all know the basics. We're birds now, we're covered in feathers. Even the fur is more feather than fur. The feathers are important. They keep us warm, they keep us dry and they let us fly.

"But they come at a cost. They are really high maintenance, and when they're not at their best, they're damn uncomfortable.Still, work on them through the day and it isn't that bad, if you know how to do it right.

"Just curious, how many people flew here tonight?" I asked, shifting topic suddenly. About eighty percent raised their hand.

"How many people would say they fly regularly? At least once a day?" Only about half raised a hand.

"Anyone not flying at all?" I was glad that no one raised a hand.

"Good, because we are fliers. We should own the skies." I shook my wings, "These are not just for show. But if we want to truly own the skies, we need to look right. Properly preened, you will find you can slip through the air with ease.

"So, I'd like to put on a preening clinic. Share what I've learned so far, and hopefully make you feel better." I paused and glanced at the wall to the Friend Zone. "Sorry Michelle, I know your rules, but I think this is something friends should know. I can preen myself easily, but a friend helping makes it a hell of a lot easier."

"I'm fine with it. It's our get together, we can make and break whatever rules we want. Okay everyone, slight change in plans. Skyfire's going to hold her clinic here. If anyone isn't interested you can go to the Friend Zone. And if you have a friend you'd like to have here, invite them in."

"And please, grab some brushes. One of each type. I've been using them for a couple weeks now and love them. Hopefully they work for you as well." I called out, motioning at the table next to me.

There was a few minutes of chaos, but when it settled, the Friend Zone was empty. I walked among the crowd, offering a few quick tips before starting. I didn't pick a partner, intending to work mainly on myself.

"George, if you have any tips of your own, feel free to chime in. You learned from basically the same classes I did I think."

The bald eagle nodded, though she seemed content to let me lead the session.

I stepped back to the front of the group. "Okay then, let's begin. First of all, a good preening can be sensual, and with peaks coming that may be hard to resist. But we're going to keep it purely platonic. Also, the brushes are important, especially for reaching some areas, but ultimately, you'll find that our talons are our best brushes."

My clinic took a couple of hours. At first, they were doubtful of my claims, but as they combed out their down and greased up their feathers, it clearly felt better. Whether due to the peaks, or just due to feeling good for the first time in a long time, Michelle and I had to remind a lot of griffons to keep it platonic.

I surveyed the results of my work, and I was proud. They weren't perfect, but they looked a lot better than when they walked in. They all obviously felt better, gaining more confidence that I hoped would carry them forward.

"Okay, that's all I have. The rest is just practice. You had a lot of feather-debt built up and it won't go away from one session.But keep it up and you will get ahead and feel better day after day. And if you have any questions or ideas, please reach out. We're all learning this as we go, so work out what works for you and please share."

I retreated from the centre of attention and grabbed a fresh cup of water and ice, using it to wet my throat. I felt exhausted but I was proud, seeing the flock obviously gaining confidence and comfort.

"You're a good teacher," Brian complimented me. "I wish I could have recorded it for you guys, it would probably be useful for all of you.."

"I just wanted to help. But if we get some people, we can try again. Not tonight though."

"That could be arranged I'm sure," Michelle said. She got a drink of her own and leaned against me, clearly exhausted. "Just pick a day and I'm sure I can find volunteers."

"Well tomorrow is out, I have plans, not to mention whatever the peak is going to bring. But Monday afternoon is pretty free. Assuming Peak doesn't hit then."

"You worried about peak?" Brian asked.

"It's the anticipation that is getting me. We know it's coming, we don't know what it is. And I've got no context. I'm pretty sure I'm running late, but I don't know how late." I nodded towards a few griffons on the other side of the room. "In talking with others, they feel they are on time and they aren't sure what to make of it. They've said they've been feeling increasingly horny but not much else."

"In any case, we'll pencil in a recording session on Monday and we'll go from there." Brian excused himself and wandered away.

I gave Michelle another hug, then picked through the remains of the snack trays.

"Thanks again. I'm glad you came out. Brian showed me some of your interview and you made some good points. I'm glad you're up here," she said, snagging some grapes.

"It's my city, gotta look out for it." I sighed softly. "That said, this wouldn't have happened without you. You're the one who organized all this, and you're good at this. If you don't mind me asking, what did you do before you changed?"

"I was a receptionist at a medium sized company here. I even managed to make it through COVID. But then this got me, and they felt like they had to let me go when I told them."

"Really? Wow. That's their loss."

"Between you, me and all these open ears, it wasn't really the Change. Late in COVID there was some office politics going on, but it was too late to release me due to COVID. The Change gave them an excuse."

I winced, "I'm sorry."

She leaned over and nuzzled my beak. "Don't be.You really invigorated me tonight. I'm feeling the best I've felt in weeks. Though I wish I wasn't feeling what's in my pants so much. How do you guys stand it?"

I laughed, "Private time, kleenex and experience mainly."

"Ugh, it's just so messy. But thanks. You helped me shake me out of this funk I'd slipped into."

By midnight everyone had drifted away. We took some time to clean up and pack up our own stuff into Brian's van. We waved bye to him and took off together, climbing up into the dark sky.

"Wow, I'd swear it feels warmer out than when I flew in," she called out as we circled up. Neither of us seemed ready to leave just yet.

"It's the preening. We got your R-value back up to where it should be, so the air doesn't feel as cold."

We circled up slowly, taking in the city view in silence for a bit.

"It's rather beautiful at night. Brightly lit, but not too bright. Sometimes I think we see too much now, we lose the forest for the trees. But the night, it hides things and lets us see the big picture," I said, looking towards the glowing towers of downtown, and the massive pool of light that was West Ed.

"Thanks again for your help tonight. I think I better get home and try to get some sleep. Got some busy days ahead of me."

I waved a wing and broke away. "Sure, I'll see you on Monday hopefully. Take care."

Flying at night over a city was interesting. The air flowed differently, the heat of the day dissipating and cool air rushing in. Not having as clear a picture of what was around me was fun as well; a couple urban owls hooted their displeasure as I cut across their flight paths without realizing it. The bright lights helped make sure I knew roughly where I was, but the dim street lights of suburbia almost beat me; I knew home was in the area, but I came close to landing and reading street signs to figure out where I was.

Mom was still up when I came in the door. She was watching an old Law and Order rerun while scrolling through Facebook on her tablet. I quietly shut the door and wiggled out of my pack with a relieved sigh.

"Did you have a good time?" she called from the couch.

I unstrapped my gear from my wrist and dropped it on a side table, before dropping sideways onto the couch. "It was a great time. Good to see more griffons in person again, made me feel like I wasn't alone. And I think I helped a lot of people too."

"Good good," she said. She looked up from her tablet and I saw a puzzled look go across her face.

I looked down and realized I hadn't put my top back on. I hurriedly covered my chest with an arm. "It's not what you think." She tilted her head and I sighed. "It's mainly for comfort, but nothing sexual. So few of us have properly fitting clothes, and if they don't fit right, it can make flying a hell of a lot harder."

"We're all adults here, and you know you the best. Go with what's comfortable and your father and I will support you, whatever it might be."

I sighed again and pushed myself off the couch with my wings. I half intended to fetch a top from my bag, but went to the kitchen instead. The stove was covered in pots, waiting to cook the veggies for tomorrow. On the counter was a casserole dish with the stuffing prepared, ready to bake. There was no sign of the turkey, but I figured it was in the fridge, waiting to be tossed in the oven in the morning.

"You've been busy. Did you have everything?" I called back.

"I think so, enough for tomorrow in any case. Try the stuffing, make sure it is spicy enough."

"Mom, we've been through this. My tastes are different now. My spice level isn't what it used to be." I lifted the lid on the casserole dish and sniffed. While I didn't smell as well as I used to, it did smell familiar.

"I know. I tried to double all the spices this time. I'm finding it strong but hopefully you'll find it good."

I snagged a fork and tasted it, holding my sample with my tongue to let the flavour sink in. It did taste familiar, and good, but it didn't have the kick I remembered. "It's fine, ma. It's fine," I said, hoping I didn't sound disappointed.

I rinsed it down with some water and went back to the living room. I gave mom a quick beak nuzzle. "I'm exhausted; I've gotta crash out. Good night."

"Night, dear. Love yah."

"Love yah too."

Week 3

Sunday, October 8

I slept in late, undisturbed by dreams, erotic or otherwise. When I woke, I just laid face down on the bed, wings spread, body relaxed, trying to tell if anything was different. As far as the biologists could guess, we should be starting to hit our peaks, whatever that would mean. For me, nothing felt any stranger than usual.

I turned my head on the pillows and flicked an ear, focusing on the sounds of the house. Mom and dad were already up, puttering around downstairs. The TV was on, tuned to a news channel. I heard the oven door thump closed and imagined mom busy in the kitchen getting the turkey dinner cooking, while dad watched the news. It felt so normal.

I sighed and pushed myself up and stretched, sliding off the bed. I shook a bit and did a quick brushdown to settle my bed feathers. I dressed up, making sure I put my top on. Today was a Simon/human day, not a Skyfire/griffon day, so I wanted to make sure I was in the right role.

"Mornin'" I greeted them as I came down the stairs. "Need a hand with anything?"

"It's all good for now. Just gotta cook. You're on mashing duty."

I snagged an apple to tide me over until dinner and joined dad in the other room. On the TV, I recognized the army camp next to the Flying J. The reporter was dwarfed by the pastel blue Titan with orange hair. He wore a white blouse and a plaid front kilt.

"Uhoh. I hope the reporter has the reins ready," I said, crunching into the apple.

"You know her?" Dad asked.

"Not well, but I spoke with him a few times. He knows his stuff but he's hard to stop when he gets going."

"I'm here at the science encampment set up outside Fort Parker. It has now been two weeks since a hundred thousand people were changed into griffons, an experience similar to what affected Titan's Step six months ago.

"This milestone has been anticipated by scientists and griffons alike as what is seen as a key moment to understand their biology. With me to explain this importance, is Doctor Janet Wattie, a biologist and Change expert from Titan's Step."

"Thank you, Jack. To properly understand why today is important, we have to take a step back, to two weeks ago when the griffons joined our biological tapestry. One of our first priorities when we started examining them, was to establish baselines. Figure out what is normal for them so we could recognize and treat the abnormal.

"Since griffons possess two sets of genitals, we assumed they were similar to Titans, with a biology that balanced male and female traits. So we were very surprised to find post-Change that was not the case. Former males were still effectively male, former females were still female, at least hormonally.

"In the days that followed, we saw hormones levels start shifting, heading towards a balance, so our next theory was it was a delayed reaction to the Change, and they would reach a balance and settle like Titans, and for a week that seemed to be the case. They reached a balance point, and to our surprise again, they kept going."

e now." I crunched another chunk out of the apple and kept watching.

""Which brings us to today. Tests yesterday showed levels similar to what we saw just after the Change, or opposite from what we saw post Change depending on how you want to see it. Our current theory is that this represents a peak for griffons, the moment they are most female or male, after which they will hormonally shift to the other sex."

"And what does this peak mean for griffons?"

"It's hard to say. It may be nothing. I suspect many are hoping it will be nothing. Biologically, it should represent peak fertility both male and female. I fully expect the first griffon chicks to be conceived today or the days ahead."

I ughed grabbed the remote, flicking over to the weather channel.

"Something wrong?" Dad asked.

"Nothing wrong. I'm just tired of hearing about that. It's all we've been chattering about for the past few days, and I just want it over with."

Mom came out to join us, looking at me concerned. "So are you at this peak?"

"Not yet. I felt I was 'running late', and I confirmed it last night more or less. Talked with some other griffs who were guys before, and I figure I'm a few days behind. Lucky me."

"Do you want us to change our flights? We could stay to support you," mom suggested.

I shook my head quickly. "No! No it's okay. Whatever is going to happen, I'll get through it. It's my biology now, it can't be that bad. It'll probably be nothing. Not like I'm trying to have a kit or anything."

I gulped down the last of the apple, seeds and all and tried to shift topics. "Speaking of your trip home, is there anything else you need in the big city before you head out?"

"No, we should be good. We're mainly out here for you, not for us," mom said.

"Okay then. Need a hand with anything in the kitchen?"

In hindsight, I went too far into Simon mode. I wanted to have a nice, normal dinner, without any strangeness. Of course having the turkey carved by a phoenix lady was impossible to ignore, but I didn't want to think about what was coming out of the science camp or what others were going through. This was family time as far as I was concerned.

The TV was switched to HGTV and stayed on a renovation marathon that was safely far away from any news updates. I helped mom finish up the dinner, doing the usual things like mashing potatoes and lifting the bird out of the oven. Using oven mitts with talons is extra fun as I discovered. Mom made her usual lament that the gravy wasn't right, but everything looked fine as far as I was concerned.

Dinner was served by midafternoon and it was tenser than I expected. We tried to chat, but none of the topics we could come up with lasted long. I found myself looking at my half filled plate. I had filled it with my usual amounts, but I was stuffed; my gizzard was waving the white flag and signalling no more if I knew what was good for us.

I shoved the plate ahead and put my elbows on the table, lowering my beak into my talons. My eyes were wet and I was taking deep shuddering breaths, trying to keep a hold of myself.

"Simon?" mom asked, putting her fork down. She stood and came around to hug me. I felt dad's arm come around me from the other side.

"I'm... I'm sorry. I just... I just wanted a normal meal, a normal dinner. To show things are still the same." I gasped out."But it's not. It's not the same. There's nothing normal about this."

Mom squeezed me tighter and I hugged her back with a wing. "It's okay. You're right, this isn't normal. But it's us, it's you. Not a new you, just you. No matter how you look, you're still our son."

"Am I? Am I really? I've got breasts. I've got a... you know. I'm not sure who I am any more. There's so much to do, and I don't know if I can do it." I felt like I was beginning to babble. My mental framework was shaking hard. Two weeks worth of terror, frustrations, anger and all the bad stuff in general were breaking out. I'd been punting them forward, focusing on what needed to be done, but now the piper had to be paid.

"It doesn't matter. You're you where it counts. In your heart, in your mind, in your soul," mom reassured me.

I snorted, which is a rather strange sensation to do with nares instead of nostrils. "My mind... You didn't go through this. It affected my mind as much as my body. You can feel It in there, keeping you calm, teaching you your new body, propping you up until you adjust. I think I'm still me, but am I?"

"From what we see, you certainly are. You have some new mannerisms, but everything that made you Simon is still there," dad said. "What you went through is terrifying to think of, it's such an invasion of body and self. But you got through it, and you're going to keep going on."

They tugged me off the stool and led me to the couch. We sat together, supporting me as I babbled on, letting out my fears and frustrations. Eventually I was too emotionally exhausted to go on, and I fell asleep.

Hours later, I climbed back up to consciousness. A blanket had been tucked around me, and the TV was still on. I could hear dad sitting in a nearby chair. I was still exhausted, mentally exhausted, but the dam holding everything in check was back in place and under significantly less pressure. I groaned softly and pushed myself up, my wings aching from my awkward position on the couch.

"Feeling better?" dad asked, looking at me concerned.

I nodded and looked around. The dining table and kitchen had been cleaned up, leftovers piled up on the stove. Mom put her tablet down and sat next to me.

"You were waiting for that, weren't you?" I asked, hugging her tight.

"We certainly were. No matter what you look like, we know you, Simon. You have a big heart, but you have a bad habit of letting things build up until you break. And we could tell you were well past that point before we got here."

"How are you feeling?" dad asked, squeezing my shoulders.

I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Better. Really better. There's still a lot built up, but it doesn't seem quite as bad."

"Good good. I wish we could stay here longer."

"Part of me wants you to stay too. But I need to get my routine back together. Get back to work and doing my own thing."

"Promise us, you'll add a therapist to that routine? You need someone to open up to, to let that out before it breaks out again."

I nodded to her. "Greg strongly suggested it too. Not quite a condition on my return, but it might as well be."

We fell quiet for a bit. I drew comfort and strength from them, feeling I was ready for the coming week, even with the unknowns.

"Are you sure you don't want us to stay longer?" mom asked again.

"I'm sure. I'm good. Well I'm better now. I need to find my new routine, and I can't find it with you guys around. Getting back to work this week will help a lot."

"Fine, but remember, we're just a quick flight away. You need us, we'll be here," Dad said.

"I know you will. Which is good, because it's a mighty long flight for me. It's a tempting flight, but not on the cusp of winter."

"True, but could make for a great summer road trip... air trip? Flight trip?"

"We should have a lot of things figured out by then, one way or another. In the meantime, we do have Christmas ahead of us."

Mom paused. "Oh yeah, I hadn't even started thinking of that. It's so far away."

"Yeah, but I'm not sure if I'll be able to travel out east by then. Planes won't do, and buses probably won't work. Maybe I could take the train. Or maybe I'll just host, bring you back out here, get Bev and Tracy out too. There's room enough for you all."

"We'll think about it and talk to Bev and see what she thinks."

We fell silent again, letting our thoughts process. Mom finally squeezed my thigh gently. "What about Skyfire?"

"What about me?" I asked, and saw a flash of concern on mom's face. "Look, Skyfire isn't something I intended to happen, but for now I need her. She's my griffon life, and Simon is my human life, and I need that division for now. It's part of my coping. It probably isn't healthy, but I can't let that go just yet." I hugged mom again. "Don't worry, that will be the first thing I mention when I get my head examined."

We spent the rest of the evening talking. Going through what I went through over and over again, helping me finally address some of the baggage I'd built up, and just helping me figure out where I stood now, and where I'd be going in the future. There were airports full of baggage still to go, but the mountain didn't feel quite as insurmountable. We pulled Bev and her wife, Tracy, in and made it a proper family therapy session, while starting to make tentative Christmas plans. All in all, it was a mental preening that I was long overdue for doing, and in the end, I felt as good as Michelle did after the physical preening yesterday.

After my parents retired to bed, I stepped out onto the back porch. For the first time in a long time, I'd gone the entire day without a flight, and I was debating a quick flight in the overcast skies. The air was crisp, almost cool enough for me to feel.

Instead, I decided I'd been offline long enough. I leaned against the porch railing and checked my alerts. The first message was all I needed to see, a single word that sent a shudder down my spine.


I turned off the screen, feeling a new airport's worth of baggage landing on my mountain of issues. Because it was the most different and most obvious part of our biology, most of us tended to focus on the avian aspects of our bodies. The feline aspects in comparison were more familiar to most of us, and thus less on our minds. When the scientists started talking about a female peak, the idea of a feline heat was something we realized could come with it; but most of us seemed to develop a collective blindspot to the possibility. A possibility I still didn't want to address.

I went back inside, leaving those thoughts for tomorrow-me, and locked up. After the long day of talking, I was too emotionally and physically exhausted to properly process the idea. Thankfully my body seemed to be in agreement, giving no hints of what it was about to unleash on me.

Monday, October 9

I slept deeply and dreamlessly, too exhausted to fantasize. When I woke, I laid on my bed for a long time, assessing myself. Physically, I felt no different; no hint of what might be coming soon. Mentally, I felt better than I'd felt in a long time. My mountain of issues was better arranged and not as large as it had been, aside from the fresh pile I hadn't even begun to address yet.

Downstairs, I could hear my parents were already up. They had a late flight back east, so there was no rush for them to leave. I slid off the bed and went through my usual morning preparations. At the last minute, I tossed my top onto the bed, deciding today would be a Skyfire day.

"Morning guys," I called out, hopping over the stair railing halfway down. Sadly, my house didn't have enough open space between the floors for me to jump down, but I could save half the steps if I wanted to.

"Mornin' dear," mom called back. They both turned towards me, but dad quickly looked away, his cheeks turning red. Since he was closer, I gave him a quick hug from behind, then slipped around him to the kitchen.

"How are you feeling?" mom asked, unphased by my furry breasts. She had seen them a few days before, while dad may only have ever glimpsed them in passing on the video calls. From the corner of my eye, I saw mom elbow dad and mouth 'stop that!'.

I grabbed an orange and bit through the rind; the sweet bitterness of the rind was strong enough for even me to taste. "A lot better. Not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it's a major step forward. Thanks guys."

"You were up later than we were. Did you?" mom nodded to her tablet that was facedown on the table.

"I did. I saw." I sighed. "I didn't look into any details at all though. I read one word and noped away. So you probably know more than me for a change."

"Do you want to talk about it?" she asked.

I quickly shook my head and licked some orange juice off my talons. "No, not yet. And not with you. This is a Skyfire thing, hence," I indicated my bare chest and saw dad redden more. Teasing mom was a fun activity Bev and I did, but it was too easy. Getting a similar reaction from dad was a lot more challenging, so I didn't mind claiming a small win in this case.

"I'm still feeling normal, or as normal as I have been. I'm pretty sure I'm a day or two away from it." I couldn't bring myself to say the H-word. "So in the meantime, I'm going to go film a preening PSA with some new friends this afternoon, and catch up. I'm pretty sure some of them will have gone through it by now."

Mom started to speak but I cut her off. "I appreciate all you did, especially yesterday. And I know you want to help. But this is something I'll have to handle by myself. Or if not myself, then with other griffons. It's something that I'll want to handle privately; it would be too embarrassing if you guys were still around. So don't suggest delaying your flight."

She sighed and accepted the situation. The rest of the morning passed relatively uneventfully, with a lot of neutral talk. I specifically stayed offline, knowing if I did go on, I'd disappear down a rabbit hole and waste the last few hours with my family. Dad slowly started to get used to my state of dress, but I was glad they were leaving soon. Otherwise his arm would be a huge bruise from all the pokes mom gave him to make him 'smarten up'.

I was heating up leftovers for lunch (hot turkey sandwiches with veggies), while mom made sandwiches for them to take on the plane, when Michelle called. I accepted the call and cast it to the TV.

"Hey Skyfire, I just wanted to check in on you. You haven't answered our messages, so Brian and I wanted to know if we're still on for this afternoon."

I left the kitchen to get in the TV's camera view. "Hey Michelle. Sorry about that, it was a busy day yesterday. But I'm good for today."

"You are? You're not ... you know?" she asked, her eyes looking towards my parents who were in view behind me. They'd 'met' a few of my Fort Parker friends, and they'd been off camera when I called Michelle a few days before. This was officially the first new griffon they'd met in a while.

"No, not yet. Not even a hint yet. I'm a really late peaker it seems. Michelle, these are my parents, Joan and Louis. Guys, this is Michelle, the organizer of the Edmonton Griffon Support group." I excused myself for a moment to catch the mashed potatoes I was heating up before they turned into charcoal. I turned down the heat on the stove and made sure everything was ready to assemble, while listening to them chat with Michelle. I came back out in a natural lull in the conversation.

"Sorry, I see I'm interrupting your lunch," Michelle said. "But to let you know, I booked the gym at Saint Luke's for the afternoon for us. It's near the Castle Inn. And I've got five griffons and a friend coming out for the lesson. They've already confirmed they can make it."

"Good, good. I can find that easily, I'm sure. See you around two?" I confirmed.

"Yup, two it is. It was good to meet you two. Have a safe flight home."

The call ended and I retreated to the kitchen to start assembling plates. Mom followed soon after to get the silverware for the table.

"She seems nice," mom said as she worked.

"She is. And a boon for our group. A shame she was fired, but I think she's about to bounce back onto her paws."

The rest of our time together passed in a blur. All too soon, the taxi was in my driveway and the luggage was going out the door. The driver did a triple take when she saw me step out with my parents. She kept looking between me and the back seats of her van, until we assured her I was not one of her passengers.

I hugged mom tight, feeling my eyes watering again. "Thank you. Thank you both for coming out," I said, my voice catching. "I know I wasn't always the best of hosts but you helped."

"We're your parents, that's what we're here for. I just wish we could do more," mom assured me.

Dad moved in to join the hug and I brought my wings around to encompass them both. "You've done tonnes. The rest, I'll get sorted out."

"If you need anything, don't hesitate to call. If needed, we'll be here in a flash," dad said, his voice catching as well. I knew their eyes were as wet as mine. With how spread out we were, family farewells were always emotional, but this was rougher than normal.

"I know. I know you will. But I think I'm good. Christmas will be here before we know it, and I'll see you all again then."

We held our position longer than normal, but too soon I felt dad press back. I pulled my wings back and let them go, rubbing the wet feathers around my eyes. Mom looked away, pulling a kleenex from her purse and dabbing her eyes.

"We'll call when we land," she said, sniffing. "Of course you always track us so you'll know anyway."

I resisted the urge to hug her again. "But it's good to hear from you, to make sure you landed safely."

They got into the taxi and waved. I waved back, and jumped into the air, smirking a bit at the surprised expression of the driver. I circled over them a bit while the driver recovered and backed out. I then paced them through the suburban labyrinth. When they reached the main road, I swooped low enough to see inside and waved a final time before they joined the flow of traffic heading out of the city.

I returned home and slumped against the door, feeling the familiar churn of emotions when family left. I loved them dearly and was grateful they had come out; but I was an adult with my own life that had to go on. I mentally took off my "host" and "son" hats and started pulling on my "Bachelor Simon" hat, though it didn't fit right with the "Bachelorette Skyfire" hat there too. I thought of starting to catch up on things online, when I noticed the time.

I cursed and almost literally flew around the house, repacking my bag with what I felt I needed and making sure everything was locked up. I paused long enough to look up the church and made sure it was on my map. Before heading out the door, I checked myself in the half bath to make sure I was presentable. A few splashes of water and I was ready to leave.

I took off and climbed fast, heading almost due north. I normally preferred a more relaxing climb that gave me a chance to check out the lay of the land, but I knew I was running late, and on the verge of actually being late to my own party. I reached my cruising altitude and stretched out, letting my wings and the winds do most of the work while I caught my breath and settled my heartbeat. Looking ahead, I centred on the mass of the mall as a landmark and soon spotted the neighbourhood church with an attached gym.

By ten after two, I was coming in fast for a landing. I noted Brian's van in passing, but I was focused on the doors. In my haste, I misjudged the speed and came in too fast. Instead of being able to catch the door and open it at walking speed, I all but splatted cartoon style into it.

I stumbled back, head ringing. The door popped open a few seconds later and Michelle looked out. "Skyfire! Are you okay?"

I held up a finger near my head. "Look! Stars! I'm ready when you are Raoul!"

She started to come out, but I waved her off, taking a half step forward. The world spun a moment more, but soon settled. "Just kidding. I'm fine, I'm fine. Just my pride was hurt."

At a more leisurely pace, I followed her into the building. As promised, there were five more griffons already there, and a few humans. Brian and a friend were setting up a big piece of green fabric at one end of the gym. I waved to them, and focused on everyone else.

Two of the griffons were obviously partners. It looked like they were doing a decent job of self preening, but one was obviously exhausted, while the other seemed a bit more wired than griffons normally were. Another was talking to a woman; it didn't take long for me to get a sibling vibe from them, though I couldn't tell if it was sisters or brother sister. The last two griffons were talking to each other and another human; they came across as new acquaintances, or at least people meeting for the first time. As eyes focused on me, I gave them a wave.

"Hi everyone, sorry I'm late. As you probably know, I'm Skyfire. We're here to film a preening tutorial to help everyone. Thank you for coming and volunteering for this. Let me get settled and check with our director slash camera monkey, and we'll get started shortly."

One of the last griffons gave me an encouraging thumb up and they went back to their talks. I looked them over again and walked with Michelle across the gym floor.

"Three females, two males," I guessed. "One just past heat, the other on the edge of it?" I further clarified.

"You got it. John and Darryl were a couple before; John went through it yesterday so if you have any questions you can talk to her. June is here with her big sister, April. Cindy and Tabitha are basically locals, but they couldn't make it to our meeting the other night. Larry is here to make sure we don't damage anything, so watch your claws."

"Oie. Guess I made an impression with him right from the start. That's what I get for rushing."

Michelle looked me over again. "Are you sure you're okay? We heard that crash through the entire building."

"I'm fine, we're more durable than many expect. I just got sloppy and tried a fancy entrance." I glanced over at John and Darryl. "I literally haven't had a chance to read up on it yet. How bad is it?" I asked quietly.

"I'm not sure, it's tolerable, and exhausting apparently. But you should either read up or talk to John. I'm going to be dreading it over the next few weeks myself. You're not feeling anything yet?"

I shook my head. "Nothing yet. I guess when I'm late, I'm late. But not in that way. If I was that sort of late, I'd-" I bit off my comment, realizing it would be inappropriate where we were. "Let's just say, the only experimenting I've done so far is mental and self directed."

She nodded and stepped to the side as we caught up with Brian. He was checking the camera feed on a laptop. "Hey Skyfire, this is my intern, Carl. That was quite the entrance."

I waved to Carl and l looked at his screen as he started trying various backgrounds. "It wasn't intentional. Green screen? You didn't mention that the other night."

"I didn't think of it until later. But I've got the equipment, and it's no extra hassle, and it'll make the video look nicer than having a gym background. You guys are a lot easier to chroma with than Titans too."

He motioned for Michelle and Carl to stand in front of the screen, and started showing backgrounds. "So what are you thinking of? Natural? We have forests, mountains, glaciers, plains. Urban? Lots of streets and parks. Inside? We can do garages, basements, bathrooms, libraries, we can even do a gym."

After a bit of discussion we settled on a living room setting. It felt homey but not sensual, a safe space viewers could relate to, while not implying it was more than just normal self care. Feeling woefully unprepared, I sketched out a quick timeline for the video, trying to think of what might be important. Brian suggested a few improvements which I accepted right away.

I ended up pausing in mid note, another thought interrupting me. "I just realized, what should we do about these?" I asked, cupping my breasts and lifting them. Only June wore a loose t-shirt that bunched up on her wings in the back. "Won't this cause a problem on Youtube?"

"Well, the main video will be hosted on a different streaming service that won't have that problem. But we will make a Youtube cut. Thankfully, we've got tools for dealing with furry breasts; that was a solved problem before the Titans came about, let alone you guys."

Brian motioned for me to get onto the green stage. "Now why don't you get into position and we'll try to film an introduction. Just stand on the mark there, relax, and say who you are and what you are going to do and why you are doing it."

I found a black X on the green sheets and stood there. I looked around while Brian checked the framing and the lighting. I had another thought and motioned him over and whispered. "This may be a bit strange, but did Michelle check ages? We know what we're doing is platonic, but all things considered I don't want to have even a whiff of possible trouble."

He looked over at the sisters and nodded, "We're good. June's 22 and everyone else is older. That does remind me, I've got some forms for you to sign later on for this, but we'll handle it at the end."

I nodded and let him go back while I started thinking of how I wanted to start the video. An indicator light on the camera turned on, and Brian pointed at me. I waited a moment longer and started. "Hello, I am Skyfire. And I'm here to talk to you about feather care.... Ugh, that's horrible."

"You were fine. Just relax and try it again," Brian encouraged me.

I gathered my thoughts and tried again, "Hello, I am Skyfire. Proper feather care is important for our comfort, our flight and our health....." I started laughing. "Sorry, I feel like I'm one of those has-been celebrities doing a PSA. For the price of a TimBit a day, you too can support a griffon going through tough times...."

Brian laughed as well. "Well, in a way it's true. You aren't fundraising, but you are a minor celebrity whether you want to be one or not. And you are making a PSA. And you're doing great so far. Just relax, and do it naturally."

I counted down from five again and tried again. "Hi everyone, I'm Skyfire. Like most of you watching this, my life was turned upside down when I became this. We've had to learn many things about ourselves since then. How to eat, how to speak, how to fly. It's a lot to process all at once." The theme to Fresh Prince started running in my head but I pushed past it.

"In my experience, proper feather care is one of the most important skills we have to learn, and one we had to learn from scratch. It affects our comfort, it affects our flying, and it affects our health and well being. Our bodies, our feathers require a lot of maintenance, but with time and practice, you'll learn to keep them as beautiful as these without needing to devote hours to them."

I stopped and Brian made a cut motion. "Good good.How do you feel about it."

"I like it, it hits the beats but I'm not sure it's the right order." I looked down at myself. "And I must've rattled my head more than I thought. I didn't even check how I looked before I started."

"Carl, get her a mirror please," Brian called out while digging out a big whiteboard from the pile of gear.

I did a quick preen while studying the main points Brian jotted down. I made a couple other suggestions, and reordered a few points, and felt I was ready again. We did a few more takes before we felt we had a good opening.

"Sorry, I feel so unprepared. I feel like I'm wasting your time."

"Stop apologizing. I agreed to do this too, and you're doing fine. The hard part is over, the rest is just showing off now. Just relax and do what you did the other night."

We set up the other griffons on the green screen area for a group shot. The spacing was a bit tight, but I managed to get spacing that I felt was appropriate. Cindy and Tabitha would help demonstrate solo preening, especially reaching the hard to reach areas. April and June and John and Darryl would show paired preening with a human and with another griffon.

Filming went well after that. I found a nice rhythm to cover what I wanted to cover, while also disconnecting enough to plan the next scenes. I called a break early on, and sat with Brian to properly plan out what I wanted to show; something I should've done at the start I realized.

Late in the afternoon Brian suggested I take a break while he did some closer shots of the others practicing. He shooed John and Darryl away as well, his intent very obvious. The three of us grabbed water bottles and retired to the far side of the gym so we could talk without interrupting the shot.

"You're looking good," I told them. "But to be honest, you were looking quite good before. Having a partner to share the load really helps."

John still looked exhausted, but he looked better after the practice we'd been doing. He moved behind Darryl and started rubbing his partner's wings. It wasn't particularly sensual, but Darryl seemed to be liking it more than normal.

"Thanks," John said. "We've been practicing and trying to follow the advice we've found, but there's nothing like seeing it in person to realize what you might be doing wrong."

"Well, hopefully this will help more people." I glanced over at the set, then back to the pair. There was a big cat in the room that I wasn't quite ready to address yet. "Please stop me if I pry too deeply, but were you a couple before?"

Darryl chuckled and leaned back to nuzzle John. "Not just a couple. Married. In this church just a couple of years ago."

"Oh.... OH!" Pieces fell into place. "Congratulations? I'm glad you got to stay together through this mess."

"So were we. We were on our way back from a late season vacation and almost got out in time, but we stopped for gas and, well, you know the rest," John said.

"How are you handling having both? Do you feel you're still gay?" I asked, curiosity beating out any tactlessness my question may have.

"Absolutely!" they said in unison and rubbed beaks. "The first few days, flush with those hormones, well, it was a messy time, but we confirmed that it didn't matter what we looked like, we were meant for each other."

"It wasn't quite as intense as the week went on, but we figured it was just our bodies settling. Then when quarantine broke, and the news about the cycles, we realized we were getting interested in the other way, and not in a hetero way," John explained.

"All those bananas. Those poor poor bananas," Darryl smirked.

I chuckled as well, and glanced around. "Ok, I've avoided this too long. What was the Heat like? I feel like I'm days away and I haven't had time to find out anything about it, but you've obviously been through it."

John hugged his partner and sighed. "The Heat?... The Heat is intense. More intense than anything you've experienced before.

"It starts the day before as you can see with Darryl here. It starts warming you up, making you more aroused, but it is manageable as you can see.Then that night, I was very restless. I slept but it wasn't a restful sleep. And then the morning came...."

"And came, and came and came," Darryl chimed in. "But we're getting ahead of ourselves."

"Yeah. It's hard to describe until you experience it. But waking up, everything was active. Not on fire, but you could feel everything. Tits, tail, wings, pussy, and everything in between."

"ALMOST everything. Little Johnny slept through it all. Wouldn't budge no matter what we tried," Darryl corrected.

"Soon after waking up, it felt like it went up to eleven, at least down there." John touched his belly. "There's an itch in there, that had to be scratched. We did our best, and scratching it seemed to help for a bit, but then it flared up again... and again and again. The entire day was like that, and it's as exhausting as it sounds.

"There were moments of respite. Take advantage of them, drink a lot and eat some things. Ice cream and chocolate helped but so did chips and fruit. Otherwise, curl up with your favorite pornos and your favorite toys and ride it out, and eventually the itch will be soothed and you can get some rest," John finished.

"Do you have a partner?" Darryl asked. I shook my head. "Then find some toys. We didn't have any, but we picked up some for me. From what we went through, you definitely want a rabbit."

"A rabbit?" I asked. I figured it had to be a sex toy but I'd never paid attention to female toys.

Darryl smirked, "You'll see."

"Right... Thanks guys. You've both intrigued and terrified me for what's coming."

"Then our job is done. Good luck whenever it hits you."

We wandered back to the rest of the group and continued the shoot. The final scene took a few takes, and then it was done.

"Ugh, that feels so fake. I'm sorry guys, I should've done a lot more preparation," I apologized as we relaxed after the shoot.

"It's showbiz. It's supposed to be fake. And you were fine, hell you were great," Brian reassured me. "Wait until you see me do my magic, you'll wonder how we ever filmed this."

"If you say so." I looked at the other griffons, and had to acknowledge that even if I felt the shoot was a bust, they certainly weren't. "You guys were great. And you look great. Thanks for coming out and volunteering."

"Thanks for teaching us," Cindy said. "You're right about how good this feels."

"Glad to help." We chatted a while longer, sharing a few more tips and helping Brian and Carl pack up. John and Darryl disappeared as soon as they felt it was socially acceptable.

"Poor guys. I am not looking forward to what's coming," Tabitha noted once they were out of sight.

"I don't know who has it worse. Me knowing I'm days away from going through it. Or you with two weeks of anticipation," I said.

"Let's just say it's equally bad and frustrating," Michelle said.

"What about you? You're all rushing to the male peak? Any hints about it?" I asked.

"It was messy. Oh so very messy," Cindy said. "But not so bad in the end. Still these can be different for everyone."

"The Titans did warn us that the first few months are the worst. We just don't know what our bodies can do, so everything is a new discovery," Michelle said.

"Damn, could that mean we could actually have eggs?" June asked.

I felt my gut clench a bit. Down at the science camp, a Titan had pushed out a blank while describing it to any new griffons around. I'd heard of it and noped out of the area, but now I half wished I hadn't. The idea still didn't sit well with me.

"If we are, it'll probably be less messy than what we used to do," Cindy noted.

"And on that note, this former guy is going to tap out. Thanks again everyone. Drop me a line if you have any more questions." I waved and skedaddled out, Michelle following.

"I'm surprised you lasted that long," she noted, smirking.

I shrugged and adjusted my pack straps. "We're all the same now, we're all going to experience all this sooner or later it seems. So no point in hiding from it. There's just so many unknowns though; like what our periods will be like; will we have eggs? We just don't know yet."

"Well, take it a day at a time, that's all we can do."

"I meant to ask, there's been all this talk about heat, but what about you? Did you go through peak male yet? You were rather quiet when Cindy spoke up."

She looked away and nodded. "Yesterday was rather interesting, and intense. Not as bad as what John described, but I was up all the time, and even after rubbing, it seemed ready to go right away. It was very messy and very draining, like she said.

"Today, it's mostly back to normal but... well looking at you and John and Darryl, I still wanted to jump you, in ways I didn't want to do with Cindy and June and Tabitha. I think they had similar feelings too; like, Brian is going to be blurring more than just nipples feelings."

For most of the afternoon, I'd been focused on my presentation so I hadn't paid that close attention to the others. Now that Michelle pointed it out, I realized I could sense some of what she said. The beast I'd managed to lock away while my parents were visiting was beginning to stir.

Unaware of what she was stirring, she reached out and touched my wing. "How are you doing? I know you must have a lot on your mind, but you seem a bit different today, in a good way."

"Thanks, I do feel better. Not perfect, not normal, but better. Even though I'm going back to work tomorrow, and I've got this heat looming ahead of me, things just seem to be stabilizing. Granted I did have a breakdown yesterday. What's Thanksgiving dinner without family drama after all? But mom and dad helped me through it, and I'm on a better path now."

"Good, good. I better let you get going. You still want to do the flying lessons on Saturday?"

"Sure, I'll hopefully be past the peak by then." I paused and remembered another thing I wanted to do. "One final thing, how much did this cost? I want to chip in a bit at least."

"Don't worry about it. We have a very well funded GoFundMe at the moment, and a good accountant to keep us legally covered. Renting the hall and paying Brian and Carl were just a drop in the bucket. If anything, I should be cutting you a check for doing this."

"Well figure out what the going rate for a spokesperson is, and consider my time a donation. If your accountant can cut me a tax receipt I'd appreciate it."

She leaned close and nuzzled beak to beak. "Sounds like a plan. Talk to you later."

I took off and circled over WestEd a bit, while I got my bearings, both real and mental. The skies were cloudy, but still well above my flight level. The winds were picking up with the hint of an overnight storm. The flight tracker showed mom and dad were still a good hour away from landing, so I had plenty of time before I could check on them.

Remembering John's suggestion, I did a search on adult stores while I started winging back towards home. I knew there was one relatively close to home, but I'd never been there and wasn't sure where exactly it was, or if it might even be open today.

Luck apparently was on my side. There were two stores in the area, and one had a facebook post saying they were open today. I set the location and headed out.

The building was a two story commercial block filled with medical and lawyer offices. There were only three commercial businesses in it; a small pharmacy, a Dominos pizza place, and the adult store. All three were open despite the holiday, but there weren't many customers around.

I landed at the end of the building, close to Intimate Treasures. It had a simple window with a mannequin wearing sexy black lingerie.There was no clear view inside the store, but there seemed to be lights on, and the hours sign was lit up. I hesitated a moment, tried the door and walked in.

The door chimed as I entered, but no one was visible. I let the door close behind me and took a few steps in, taking in the store. I hadn't been in a sex store in decades, not since my university days, and I certainly had never gone into a store looking for what I was about to look for.

"Just a minute!" a voice shouted from a room in the back.

I found a section of the wall with dildos and other female toys, boxes of products on higher and lower shelves, and demo items on eye level glass shelves. I spotted something labelled rabbit and picked up its box to read.

"Sorry, just knocking off some inventory during the quiet Oh My God, It's You!"

I fumbled the box in surprise and dropped it back on the shelf, feeling mortally embarrassed. "It's me?"

The store clerk was a woman in her thirties, a bit dusty from whatever she was doing in the back of the store. "Skyfire! I'd hoped you'd be here... Oh if you're here, you probably aren't happy to be here. Did it happen yet?" She waved her hand comedically, as if trying to cool down.

"No, I'm running late apparently. But it should be soon."

She nodded and dusted her blouse and skirt a bit before approaching. "Well, I hope it won't be too bad when it happens."

"Thanks. I'm sorry, you were expecting me?" I was feeling very confused.

"I'm Amy, and I was hoping more than expecting. We've got four stores in the city. When news of the Heat broke, we expected griffons to visit, but most of you are up north or out east. Skyfire's been spotted flying all around the south west, the only one down here, so if any griffon was to show up here, it was probably going to be you. The only thing I didn't know is if you were going male or female."

I shook my head a bit. "Sorry, I haven't been in a store like this in a long time, not since I was a shy guy alone for the first time in University. And that was a long time ago, and a different sex ago. I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed. And frankly, I'm a bit surprised at how much you seem to know. I feel like you know more about the Heat than I do right now."

"Well, this is literally my business, and the Titans and now you Griffons have shaken up my industry in ways we haven't seen since the Internet revolution. There was a Trade Show in Vegas in August that I went to, and the stuff they're making for and inspired by the Titans is incredible. Now, you griffons are out there too, I can't wait to see what will be there next year."

Amy paused and took a deep breath, closing her eyes. "But you're right, I'm coming across too strong. I'm just so excited to meet you, any of you." She stopped and did another cleansing breath. "So how would you like to do this? Would you rather I leave you alone to browse, or would you prefer me to make suggestions? I could close the store for a private consultation if it makes you more comfortable."

I took a moment to sort out her questions and decide if I was comfortable around her. She was eager, almost over eager, but she seemed friendly and knowledgeable, and I certainly felt like I needed knowledge.

"Okay, let's do a private consultation session if you don't mind. And please, keep things discrete. I don't want my information being splattered around the internet or the neighbourhood any more than it already is. Yes, I was a guy before, not a virgin but it has been a long long time. Probably best to consider me a newb when it comes to what's down there and how to use it. I've sort've been unconsciously avoiding learning about this Heat that's about to hit me, a subconscious denial I guess. But I did meet two griffons today, one who just went through it, and one who is probably hitting it tomorrow. Frankly, it scares the crap out of me."

"Discretion is our number one rule," she said, heading to the door to lock it and put up a sign. "Please relax, make yourself comfortable. There's a bench there if you want to sit, just pull it out and ignore the price tag on it."

I saw the bench she mentioned, and pulled it out. I lifted my tail over it and sat, deciding not to figure out what it might be used for. "You don't mind closing just for me?"

Amy grabbed a cart and began to collect various things from around the store. "Not at all. You're not the first woman who wanted to learn how to self pleasure, or to learn better ways to do it. You're not even my first trans, if your situation counts like that." She paused and considered me. "No, you're not quite in that category. You are my first hermaphrodite. So congratulations?"

She tossed a few more toys on the cart and did a quick inventory. She seemed satisfied by what she gathered, and rolled it over to me. She snagged a regular chair from behind the cash and sat in front of me so we were at similar levels.

"So first, the basics. Basics that apply whether you're male, female or both. You want to have fun, you want to enjoy it. It's not a challenge, it's not a race, you're not looking to take in the biggest, to finish the fastest, to vibrate the hardest; you want to have fun. So take your time, tease yourself, find levels and patterns you like, explore. And for god's sake, don't just lube it up and jam it in."

I blushed and looked away briefly. "I admit, it's the idea of 'jamming it in' or putting anything in that is still giving me a mental blue screen. I'm a guy, or was one, and a hetero one. I never really thought of putting anything in, not even anal play."

"So have you played much since you changed?" she asked.

"A little, very erotic dreams and strong morning wood. I ejaculated a few times before I tipped over. And I had one very strong female dream. I rubbed a little and orgasmed, but didn't insert." Maybe it was the location or her demeanor, but I was finding it easier to explain my actions to her, despite her being a complete stranger. I wiggled my taloned fingers. "I just never felt comfortable with the idea of putting something like this in something that could spasm closed."

"You make a really good point. Good thing we have toys." She picked up something from the cart, a silicon tube with a shaped opening. "So let's start with the basics. This is a model of a human female's genitals of course, but a griffon basically has the same, just furrier. Labia, clitoris, vagina, you have them all."

Amy then went on to describe how they worked in explicit and extreme detail. As she outlined what arousal did, I found my body reacting sympathetically. I squeezed my legs together and tried to wall off what I was hearing from what I was feeling. My nipples were hard and completely visible; I couldn't hide them without being extremely obvious about it.

She pretended not to notice my bare chest as she moved on to describe what sex would be like, and how to climax, using the female toy and a dildo to demonstrate. I tried not to squirm, though I felt I could almost feel it inside me. She gave me a knowing smile and looked away, reorganizing toys while I reigned things in.

"Sorry, my imagination can be vivid at times," I said, taking deep breaths to try and calm down.

"It's okay. I plan it that way. If you weren't having that sort of reaction, I'd probably be a bit worried. So now that you're warmed up, let's get into my business and how these can hold you on the edge, tip you over, or knock you into the depths."

She then started going over the toys, how to use them, and what they were good for. To her credit, it was very informative and not just a sales pitch. As she neared the end, I realized a good chunk of my unused Vegas budget was about to land here.

She wrapped up with a rabbit vibrator, having me hold it while she went through the settings. "Remember, it's not a race, find the settings and speeds you have the most fun with. Maximum speed is not necessarily maximum fun," she noted.

I nodded, and squeezed the phallus end of the vibrator, it was textured, covered in nubs; not quite barbed like my own. Amy seemed to pick up on it.

"That model is probably the closest we have in stock to what you have. If you really want a feline experience, there are places online you can probably find it. But honestly, I'd either go for the real thing or wait for the big companies to figure out what you're after and go from there. The stuff you find online might be too gray market to be safe if you aren't careful."

"I'm pretty sure this is plenty far enough for me, at least to start with. I'm not sure I'm quite ready to come to terms with... well with all this, but I don't really have a choice. At least I'm not blue screening any more at the thought."

"Excellent. It's a good step forward. Since you're just starting out, we'll keep things basic and simple. Experiment a bit, find what you like, and we can build from there."

We shifted from student-teacher to customer-seller. We narrowed things down to the toys that intrigued me the most, as well as the ones that Amy felt would be best suited for the coming heat.

"Now, do yourself a favour. Play tonight. Get used to the feel of them while you're still in control," she suggested as she rang up my choices. "From what I've read, the heat will grab you hard, but if you know what to do, you can take a bit of an edge off of it."

I paid and thanked her for all the help. Many of the purchases I managed to squeeze into my pack, but the rest I had to take in a plain black bag. For the short flight I had ahead of me, it would be fine.

Back home, I immediately went up to my bedroom and stripped out of my shorts. I told myself it was because the shorts were just too uncomfortable to keep on any longer. Trying not to think too much about what I was planning for the evening, I unpacked and unpackaged the toys and I set them up on my bedside table. My body quivered in anticipation, but I kept trying to think unsexy thoughts. I finished off by layering some old blankets on the mattress, hoping they would shield it from my claws and talons.

The rest of the evening was an exercise in distraction. I focused on getting dinner ready, and then preparing a lunch bag to take to work tomorrow. I watched some TV and skimmed the news online, but I had a hard time focusing. What I was planning to do dominated my mind.

Soon after ten, I decided enough was enough. I knew I had to get up early for work anyway, so an early bedtime made sense. Not that sleep would be coming soon.

The room lit by my bedside lamp, I stretched out, and let my mind wander in directions I hadn't allowed it to go yet. I snagged the vibrator, turned it on low and started letting it roam over my body, seeking areas that felt nice. Nipples brought out one of the nicest feelings. Running it over my sheath also felt good, though it didn't trigger the hardening feeling I was used to.

I moved the toy lower, letting it rub against my labia, and I moaned, a shiver of pleasure going up my spine. I closed my eyes, and my icy goddess reappeared. He strode towards me across the clouds, confident and fully erect. I felt my loins quiver in anticipation, pressing the vibrator harder to my labia.

In the mindscape, he got close to me, his wings wrapping around me. We nuzzled beaks while his hands cupped my breasts, squeezing and pinching my hard nipples. My free hand did similar in the real, matching real to imagined sensations.

My imagined hips pressing against his snow leopard furry hips, his erect member pressed against my pussy, teasing a bit. He wiggled and pushed a bit harder, and suddenly the vibrator was a little deeper. I gasped and pulled it back a bit, panting, resisting the feeling for a moment.

Back in the mindscape, the goddess had a different idea. He pressed against me again, and I pushed the vibrator deeper into my new tunnel. My whole body tensed up hard as the vibrating toy found my clitoris, setting off my sensitive flesh.

The next few minutes faded into a blur, fantasy and reality mixing. My goddess thrust hard into me and I pushed the toy in deep, the vibrations shaking my core. I let out a cry of pleasure, feeling waves of bliss flood over me.

The goddess faded away, and I was back in my bed, laying face down. My claws had dug deep into the blankets, tangling a bit in the fabric. The vibrator buzzed deep in me, keeping my level of arousal higher than I was used to. I reluctantly rolled onto my side and slowly pulled it out, feeling how wet it was down there. The high began to fade, leaving fatigue behind. I clicked off the lamp and the toy, and slipped into sleep.

Tuesday, October 10

I woke up before my alarm and laid still, assessing my feelings. At first blush, I felt normal enough, not even leftover dream feelings. I stretched a bit on the bed and bumped into the toy. It brought back the feelings of the night before, making me shiver happily.

"Still late," I concluded, the radio clicking on. It was quite dark out at six in the morning, so I flicked on my lights and started preparing for the first day back to work. I had dual worries gnawing at the back of my mind, the Skyfire worry of when the heat would finally drop, and the Simon worry of what going back to the office would really be like. I washed up both myself and the toy and left it in the bathroom. I spent extra attention preening and making myself presentable, and figuring out my new work-morning routine.

By seven, I was locking up, tugging my pack straps and ready to set out. I didn't know how long it would take to fly to the office, but I was sure it would be faster than driving. The air was crisp and wet, the ground wet from the overnight storm, with the barest hint of frost. I leapt into the air and turned towards the glowing towers of downtown.

Surprisingly quickly, I found myself circling over the twenty story building that held my company's offices. It was on the edge of the highrise section of the downtown core. Taller buildings scraped the sky in one direction, while low rise buildings hugged the ground in the other. The green band of the river further divided the city. Even though I was above the buildings and not really among the skyscrapers, I could already feel the air was getting turbulent, trickier to fly in. It was a challenge I was looking forward to when I didn't have as much on my mind.

At street level, traffic was thick but not jammed up. I watched a surge of people come out of the LRT station and dissipate to the buildings around it. That train was my usual morning commute, coming in from a Park and Ride near my home, though I usually was half an hour later than I was now. It looked so normal, all those people doing their daily lives, unaware of what was over their heads.

Deciding I had procrastinated long enough, I started dropping down. I didn't feel secure enough to try to land on a somewhat crowded sidewalk, so I aimed for the parking garage next to my building. Its top level was deserted, not that I needed the space.

I did a running landing, and jogged to the edge closest to my building, pausing only to give the CCTV camera a quick salute. A lightly trafficked alley separated my building from the garage; the alley's only purpose was to give access to the garage from the main streets on either side. I waited long enough for a couple of cars to turn into the garage, then jumped off, gliding down to the somewhat narrow sidewalk. The gusts blowing between the structures caught me by surprise, making my flight trickier than normal, but I was soon safely on the ground.

I paused for a moment to smooth my feathers out and make sure my tail and wings were pulled in before I joined the masses on the main street. A car screeched to a stop just after turning into the alley, and I saw a woman staring at me, mouth agape.

"Good morning!" I called to her, giving her a wave before walking past her car, heading to the main street.

As I expected, my presence caused an immediate reaction when I stepped onto the somewhat busy sidewalk. I could hear gasps of surprise from people behind and ahead of me. Those with their backs to me began to notice the reaction and turned and were similarly surprised. There were a few screeches of brakes from the street, but no thumps or other sounds of accidents. I tried my best to act normal, walking steadily towards the lobby entrance halfway down the block. I waved to a few people I recognized from my commute; not friends, not even acquaintances, but faces I knew. I twitched my ears towards some of the loudest noises, but did my best to not listen in on the whispers I heard. I was halfway to my destination, when the first cameras started clicking. I was sorely tempted to give them a bit of a show, by jump gliding over them the rest of the way, but I figured I was enough of a distraction for the morning commute. I did jump up the five steps to the entrance landing in one go.

Like most places, the building had an airlock entrance. An outside door open all the time that led into a granite vestibule and a locked door to get to the rest of the building. I got into the first door, and started fumbling for my passcard.

The door buzzed and clicked open, the speaker over the reader crackling to life. "Come on in, Simon, we're waiting for you."

I gave the camera in a corner a quick wave in thanks, and pushed through the door. A short hallway led to the elevator lobby. Security had a desk set up to one side, with four guards present, which surprised me; they normally only had two on desk duty for the morning rush.

"Mornin' guys. How'd you know it was me and not some other red and orange feathered griffon?" I asked, smirking. Greg had told me that he'd told security what happened and when to expect me.

"I figured it was a pretty safe assumption," Robbie said. He was the guard I usually met when I came in each morning. "Damn, you're more impressive than I expected. The pics don't really do you justice."

I spread my wings a bit and smiled. "Thanks. It's nice to be appreciated but man, do these take a lot of work."

"Any problems coming in?" Cleo asked. He was the other guard who I usually met each morning.

I shook my head. "None at all. Got here faster than the train. I just flew in from west Ed, and boy am I already tired of that joke." We chuckled a moment at the bad joke. "But more seriously, no one in this city looks up. No one noticed me until I came down. I probably caused a jam outside walking from the garage, but it should clear up soon."

"We noticed," a third guard I wasn't familiar with said, indicating a screen I couldn't see. "We were debating if we might need to escort you in, but you got here."

"I appreciate the consideration. I guess we should get down to business?" I opened my pack wider and started rummaging, pulling out some paperwork and my old ID card for the building. "Greg said he would get most of the paperwork handled?"

Cleo nodded and came out from around the desk with the fourth guard. "Of course, we'll get your records all updated. Just follow us to the office."

Updating my records was surprisingly simple. Mainly it was verifying who I was, and then updating my biometrics and descriptions. Pictures were taken, but the fingerprint scanner was a challenge. My talons were overdue for a trimming, and they were just too long and curved for the scanner to read my prints. Cleo finally dug out an ink pad and pad of paper to get the prints the old fashioned way.

"Good thing you guys don't do eye scans. I'm pretty sure these yellow orbs would brick the scanner," I said, relaxing while Cleo pressed my fingers to the paper.

"You laugh, but we're supposed to get the eye scanner next year. I think we'll give you a medical exemption," he said. He passed the paper for my first hand over to Tim, the other guard for scanning.

We finished the other hand quickly and had a lull while records updated and new passes printed.

"Now this is interesting," Tim noted, leaning closer. "Granted, I'm no expert, but I don't think your fingerprints changed. Not enough to be noticed."

"Really?" I lifted my smokey gray hands, looking at the smudged finger tips under my talons. "Out of everything that happened to me, THAT stayed a constant?"

"It seems that way. I heard the Titans kept their prints too. I guess if you have hands, your prints stay the same?"

"Well no one told my phone that. Guess I could never get the right angle to get the scanner to read them right."

Tim tapped a few more keys and closed down the records. He snagged a new badge warm from the printer. "You're all set. Have a good day, Simon."

I thanked them and left the office, tucking the fresh badge into my pack. I saw the elevator door was open with two people entering it, and broke into a run. "Hold the doors!" I called out.

Out of habit, one pushed the Open button, then looked to see what was coming his way. His eyes widened and he started pushing another button. I reached out and got my hand between the doors in time to keep them open.

"Thanks, Twelve please," I said, pulling my wings in extra tight so I could turn around. The elevators could easily carry a dozen people, but with wings and tail feathers, I took up the space of three. Thankfully there were only the three of us in the car, so I had room to turn around. The other two occupants pressed against the sides staring at me and not moving. Once I could see the buttons, I tapped on twelve and waited, stepping back to the back of the car to give them room to get out.

The elevator dinged at 6 and the first passenger scurried out. I stepped further to the side to give more space. The other passenger was going to 15 apparently, so we were in it for the full trip. The elevator dinged and I saluted my silent companion before stepping out into the small elevator lobby.

My company, Innovative Solutions Inc., took up two full floors in the building. Management, Reception and the public face of the company was actually downstairs on the eleventh floor. The twelfth floor was where eighty-some code monkeys and techies and miscellaneous other peons worked in the cubicle fam and tech labs, hidden from the public eye. As such, while the elevator lobby had our business branding on it, it also had signs instructing visitors to see the receptionist on the 11th floor. There was a single door with an electronic keypad lock.

I wiggled out of my pack and smoothed my feathers, checking my reflection in the mirrored walls around the elevator. Feeling nervous but wanting to get it over with, I tapped my pack to the scanner. The lock beeped and clunked open.

The door opened right into the office kitchenette. It was a standard office-kitchen, with a couple of microwaves, a sink, a coffee machine, a fridge and five tables. Two of my coworkers were talking at the coffee machine while it gurgled. They stopped as they saw me walk in, eyes going wide.

I held a finger to my beak in a shush moment and crossed to the doorway to the rest of the office. The printer/copy station was set up just outside the kitchen door and then the rows of cubicles started. I stopped just outside the kitchen, listening to the sounds of an office waking up for the morning; keyboards clicking, muffled voices on calls, other conversations happening over the walls. It was just after eight and probably half the staff was in by now. The other half would be out on service calls, or tended to run later hours.

I took a deep breath and decided to make my entrance. "Good morning everyone! I'm back!"

The office fell silent, other than the roll of chairs sliding back. Heads popped up over the walls as they prairie dogged, looking to see who was raising a ruckus. I heard my name whispered, along with 'Skyfire' mentioned, as word spread at the speed of gossip.

"Hi everyone! As you were. I'll be around to everyone shortly," I called out again, giving a wing wave.

For the next hour, I wandered around the office floor, chatting with people and touching base. Partly it was to catch up on what I'd missed. Mainly it was to get everyone else used to me, to show I was still the Simon they knew, more or less. I stopped in my office long enough to drop off my bag, and note Rob had left my gear there. Someone had also gotten a balance ball to replace the chair I no longer could use, something I hadn't even thought of.

Rob himself had an office on the opposite end of the building from mine. He was our head tech, in charge of building our client's systems and making sure we had everything needed to do an install. His territory was the workshop that took up a good quarter of the office floor, with work benches filled with monitors and keyboards and reels of cables and other knick-knacks. I hadn't intended for him to be one of the last I visited, but my route made it that way.

"You're looking good," Rob greeted me, giving me a quick handshake, then a hug.

"I'm feeling better. Thanks again for all your help. Sorry I didn't touch base a bit more."

"It's all good. You've been busy. As has been Skyfire."

"You noticed?"

He nodded, "Neets and I've been keeping an eye on the chatter as best we can. Looks like you're doing good work."

"Thanks. That reminds me, do you two want access to the group? I can invite you in if you want. We welcome allies."

"I'll check with Neets, but I wouldn't say no. Anything we can do to help you and your new friends."

"Thanks...." I fell silent for a moment, pushing Skyfire back to refocus on work. "So was it your idea for the balance ball?"

"Greg's actually. He's got Chris looking to see if we still have a standup desk in storage for you too."

"I didn't think of that, but it's a good idea. Hope we have one."

We chatted a bit longer, actually touching on some work projects along the way, before I finally excused myself and retreated to my office. I half closed the door and made sure the blinds were closed to the inside windows. I could hear the office starting up again, but I doubted today would be very productive. Even with the door mostly closed, there seemed to be an unusual number of people finding an excuse to walk by.

I took my time setting up my desk and unpacking my travel kit. I doubted I'd be going on the road again any time soon. I logged in and started going through the mountain of messages waiting for my attention.

A knock at the door interrupted my focus. I looked up and saw Greg there, looking more serious than usual, holding a coffee mug.

"Hello Simon," he said, his voice carefully monotone. "Welcome back. I just wanted to let you know, there was a problem with the TPS reports you filed before you left. Did you not get the memo about the cover sheets?" He barely got to the end before he started laughing.

I threw a stress ball at him and laughed as well. "Dammit! you had me going there at the start."

He put his mug down and shook hands. I pulled him in for a careful hug-slash-back thump similar to how we usually greeted each other. He closed the door fully, and settled down in my guest chair while I perched on the balance ball.

"Welcome back. How are you doing? Any problems so far?" he asked.

"None yet. Thanks for the new perch. I didn't think we had any left."

"I didn't either, but Chris found one in a corner of the storage room, and surprisingly it was in good shape as you see. You don't have to use it; check around and if you find a better seat you want to try, just let Chris know and we'll try and get it for you. That goes for anything you might feel you need."

"Well, I wouldn't mind a window that opened big enough for me to scoot in and out of; but I don't think even Chris could work that magic. Thanks for the thought though. We're all still adapting and figuring out what works, but I've got all I need so far."

"Good good." He paused and sipped from his mug. He waved it towards the cubicle farm outside my office. "How's the crew taking it? It's one thing to see you on a Teams call, and something else to see you in person."

"They seem to be taking it well. A lot of curiosity, a lot of pity as well. And a twinge of fear. But also some relief. I think they were scared I wouldn't be back to handle the Mitchell account."

"We really need to get someone else cross trained on that account," Greg chuckled. "How about you? How are you feeling?"

"I'm feeling good. Glad to be back here, happy to start getting back into a routine." I paused and could tell he was trying to figure out how to tactfully ask something else. "It hasn't happened yet, but I can feel it building. I hate to skip so soon, but I think tomorrow or Thursday, I might need to take a griffon day."

He visibly relaxed, thankful not to have to ask what he was trying to ask. "Take whatever you need. For the rest of the year, consider yourself on light desk duty. If you need a day or two off for any reason, take it, and we'll square up later."

We chatted longer, until a reminder popped up. I stood up and grabbed my paperwork. "Time for Identity Wars, Round 2: HR Department," I said. "Oh and thanks for setting things up for me with security downstairs. It went smooth as silk."

"Good, forewarned is forearmed. Hopefully HR goes just as smoothly." We left my office and headed for the stairs that linked our two floors. "Make sure you do the rounds when HR is done with you."

The visit with human resources went well enough. Mainly it was needed to get me an updated badge. I felt a twinge of sadness, watching my old face disappear into the shredder; another aspect of the old me gone forever. Darlene tried to further update my records in their database, but it didn't work very well. The HR application hadn't been updated to account for Titans yet, let alone griffons.

We spent an hour going over the forms, trying to figure out the best ways to fill them in, and just talking in general. Ultimately Darlene ended up leaving a lot of spots on her forms blank, and typing up a small novel in the Notes section, and an entire trilogy's worth of questions to find answers to, and how to fit griffons into the corporate framework. The Titans had started blazing the trail for us, but it was obvious that many considered the Titans an American problem and hadn't put much effort into preparing for people becoming entirely new species. Plus, griffons were obviously different enough from humans and Titans that we brought in an entirely new set of questions and possible problems.

Finally, she let me go, with the promise that we'd be having more chat sessions to iron out the details in the future. I clipped my new badge to my belt and did the Mahogany Row rounds to introduce the new me to the rest of the company. The reaction was similar to the reactions upstairs.

It was close enough to noon by then, that I decided to take my lunch. Normally, I tended to eat lunch at my desk, when we weren't going out to a local restaurant. For today, wanting to be more sociable, I took my lunchbag to the kitchenette and set up at a table with my back to the wall and nibbled while everyone else came in for lunch. Some didn't want to handle my presence, choosing to 'nuke and scoot' with their meals back to their desks. Others just passed through, on their way to eat out, possibly a spontaneous decision. But a few stuck it out, sitting at the other tables and trying not to too obviously watch me.

Rob eventually came out and sat with me. He glanced around and read the room right away, and helped break the ice. After talking about Thanksgiving and my parent's visit, we shifted to more griffon related matters. Soon, others began asking me what it was like and the ice was thawed.

After lunch hour had turned to two and was approaching three, I finally called a wrap. I was feeling guilty about being so distracting to the office. I was also feeling the hints of something else that was beginning to bother me. I retreated to my office, closed the door and tried to ignore the beast that was stirring inside me.

I lasted until four, when I finally threw in the towel. I let Greg know I was heading out and wouldn't be in tomorrow, and packed up. I visited a few other key people on the floor to give them a similar message. Rob picked up on the why right away and looked concerned. I told him I'd call later, and escaped to the elevator. I lucked into an empty car that took me right down to the lobby. I waved to security on the way, saying I'd be back in a few days, and fast walked out the doors, ignoring the stares I was getting.

Outside, the street was busy both with cars and pedestrians. It was heavily overcast with a cold drizzle coming down. I debated walking back to the alley, and decided to screw it.

"Make way! Make way please!" I shouted, spreading my wings wide. I stepped to the edge of the landing and made sure no one was in the way, and jumped into the air. My takeoff did take me right over the street, but I knew I had more than enough height to clear the vehicles. It did cause a screech of brakes from some surprised drivers, but once again, no crunches. I turned quickly and kept climbing, following the road southbound. I had a random thought of asking the city to set up some "Warning: Low Flying Griffon" signs around work and other places griffons might show up.

Flying in the rain was a new experience. Even though I could feel the water hitting me, I never felt wet. I could see the drops rolling off my feathers and fur alike, like I was covered in oil. Considering my preening habits, that technically was true. Only my bare hands and forearms got wet, but it wasn't uncomfortable. My clothes on the other hand were wicking the water in, getting heavier and throwing off my flight profile just enough to be annoying.

At home, I signaled to open the garage and dove right in, sliding along the side of the car I'd forgotten was in there. I stripped off my gear and clothes before the door was closed, feeling relieved to not have them clinging to me any more. I gave myself a good shake to knock most of the water off, and went in to finish drying.

I had a better understanding of what Darryl had been going through at the lessons. My body was tingling in anticipation, wanting to be touched, to be rubbed, to be hugged. I felt aroused as well, not quite wet but right on the edge. The urges I was feeling made me yearn to have someone around to cuddle with, to help take the edge off of what I was going through, but I was alone.

The evening dragged on forever. I felt restless, unfocused but too wired up to go to bed. The TV was on, but nothing on the screen registered. I found myself wandering from room to room, looking for something but not sure what I wanted.

Around ten, I went to bed. I tried to think back to the night before to recover the mood, but my goddess stubbornly refused to show up on the one night I wanted him to. I went through the motions with the rabbit vibrator, and shook myself to my body bliss.

I thumbed the toy off and curled up, dozing off into an uneasy sleep.

Wednesday, October 11

The dawn's early light brought me back to life. I stretched out, feeling like I had no rest at all, my mind groggy and unfocused. I stood up and tried to wake up, half thinking I may have been wrong about my heat. I automatically went through my morning routine, washing up and doing a half hearted preening. I didn't feel like coffee, but instead downed half a jug of chocolate milk.

By midmorning, I knew the heat had arrived. My heart was pounding, my nipples were hard and aching. My vulva was wet and yearning to be filled. And I could feel an itch deep in me, wanting to be scratched.

I retreated to my bedroom but didn't go to the bed. I grabbed one of the other purchases I hadn't used yet, a non-vibrating knobby dildo that Amy thought would be big enough to scratch the heat itch. I knelt next to the bed, leaning against it for support and pressed the silicon toy between my legs. It took me a few tries to find the right angle, but I soon felt it going in deeper and deeper. I rocked it within me, squeezing on it tighter than I thought possible. I let out a cry of pleasure and felt the itch fade a little. I weakly pulled the toy free and rested against the bed.

After a long rest, I pulled myself back onto my paws, still feeling wired up, but the itch was slightly soothed. I went back downstairs and crunched through two apples in quick succession.

My time sense, like the rest of my senses, was completely wonked out. But all too soon, the itch began to flare again, and I was back in the bedroom, pumping again. There was some pleasure, but mostly it was just done to buy some relief.

The cycle repeated over and over. In the all too brief downtimes, I almost recovered enough to be in the same ballpark as normal. But inevitably, the itch returned; the yearning to be filled came back, and I was back on the toy.

In the back of my addled exhausted mind, I had the feeling I was forgetting something, that there was something else about today that was important. By midafternoon, I finally realized what it was. In one of my few moments of clarity, I got online and sent a message to the local Pokemon Go group.

Sorry guys, I know you were anticipating Skyfire at tonight's raid hour, but I will not be able to make it due to personal reasons. I should be back next week, ready for whatever bosses we'll be facing.

I knew there would be a lot of disappointed people, but I was in no shape to go out in public, let alone public where kids would be present.

Late in the day, I was exhausted. There was no pleasure left from the process, just a need to scratch the itch, to soothe it and buy some more time. As I relaxed from the latest scratch, I rubbed at my breasts. They had ached all day and felt heavier, the nipples twinging as my scaley arm rubbed against them. I felt an unexpected wetness and froze in surprise. I looked down and squeezed my breasts, pinching my nipples and felt a thick milk ooze out. It wasn't as runny as normal milk, but it was coming from me, another clue about our new biology. I stared at the thick liquid for a long moment before mentally shoving it aside; I was too worn out to deal with it now.

I was going purely on automatic by the end. The sun was gone and I was an absolute mess. I gave a weak shudder, feeling the itch ease. I slumped against the side of my bed, gasping and sobbing, just wanting it to be over. The itch eased and I waited. And I waited, anticipating it flaring up again. And I waited. And waited. I actually dozed off in that position. I woke a few hours later, my head clearer, my body aching, but the itch and desire were gone.

"It's... It's over..." I mumbled, not sure I believed myself.

I hauled myself to my paws, feeling exhausted, but thirsty and hungry as well. The alarm clock showed that it was after 11, later than I usually liked to eat, but the body demanded refreshment. My breasts still ached, the dark fur around my nipples matted down by the thick milk I'd made... the milk I was still making. I hoped they would stop doing that by morning.

I ended up basically finishing the last of the apples and oranges I had in the house, and found it just enough to take the edge off my hunger. I spent enough time in the bathroom to not feel quite as sticky, and ultimately crashed on the bed. After the day I'd been through, if the Goddess showed her beak, I would probably rip it off. My id seemed to be as exhausted as the rest of me, as I didn't dream at all.

Thursday, October 12

I woke up after eight; much later than I normally did on a work day. I still felt exhausted, starving, and I ached all over. I'd collapsed face down on my bed, and there were some chest-level discoloured spots on the blanket that I didn't want to think too much about.

I slid off the bed and almost fell to the floor. I clung to the side of the bed, willing myself into more wakefulness. After a few more false starts, I managed to get onto my paws and stumbled to the bathroom.

In the mirror, I was a mess. Feathers going in every direction, fur matted on my chest and groin, and I was pretty sure I didn't smell all that great either. With so much self-maintenance to do, and so little energy to do it with, I knew at best I'd have a half day at work, if I could even pull that off.

"Damn, that was horrible," I grumbled, waking up enough to start processing what I'd been through. I gulped down a few cups of water and plotted my next few steps. I really wanted to take revenge against the universe for forcing that on me, but I had no way to do that. So instead, cleaning up was my new priority.

My bathroom was good sized. The sink had a lot of counter space and storage space. The tub was decently sized, though a bit small for my wings. And the shower head could reach all of me, with a bit of work. I set the water temperature, gathered a bunch of towels, and made sure my combs were in easy reach, then climbed in for a good shower soak.

On my back, the water rolled off, the preening still mostly holding; but the heat that seeped in felt nice. I flipped around and let it land on my chest and it soaked deeper into my fur. For the first time in almost three weeks, I grabbed a bottle of shampoo and lathered up the fur. I knew it would strip my oils and ruin my fur-preening, but I wanted to make sure it was thoroughly clean.

I felt better as I got out of the tub and towelled off. I was still exhausted, still hungry, still aching but I was recovering. I dried off enough to not be dripping and prepared for a long afternoon of rest and preening.

Before going back downstairs, I ducked into the office to give Greg a call. I'd said I'd be in today, but I was in no condition to do it, not even a half day.

"Hey Simon, how are you doing?" he greeted me as he popped onto the screen. I made sure my camera was off.

"Exhausted. It was... quite the experience. And not one I'm looking forward to going through regularly."

"Yeah, you don't sound that great to be honest. Do you want tomorrow too?"

I shook my head out of habit, "No, I should be good. Just need to get some food in me, and get this mess back in order. I'm not even sure I could fly if I wanted to right now."

"Take care of yourself and do what you need to do. We'll see you tomorrow."

Late in the afternoon, I was feeling almost normal again. The hunger was gone, but the cupboards were getting bare. The aches were fading, my nipples weren't leaking and my breasts seemed normal, but I was suspicious of them; suspicious of my entire body now and what it could really do.

Feeling restless, I finally dressed and stepped outside. I hadn't flown for almost two days and it was the longest I'd been in one place since I'd changed. I took off, having no destination in mind, just wanting to feel the open air around me.

I flew for an hour, gliding through the chilly air, before I decided on what I needed to do. Taking my time, I swung around to the grocery store. It was the post-work-pre-dinner crush time, so the store was busier than I was comfortable with, but I decided to endure it. I landed on the sidewalk far from the entrance and far from anyone else.

Walking into the big store, I could hear and see people stopping in surprise and whispering. I tuned them out and focused on my goals. I snagged a small cart and went inside, waving to some of the workers as I went. It was my first trip with really mixed people. The adults were obviously curious, sometimes suspicious, but they tried to be discrete and kept their distance and otherwise acted normally. The teenagers seemed to try to pretend it was no big deal, but I caught more than a few trying to 'subtly' take selfies with me prominent in the background.

The kids usually were young enough not to have the societal filters to shield their reactions. Most stared at me openly from their seats in carts, or their positions next to their parents. I smiled and waved a wing at them, often making them gasps and look away, or openly stare more. I wasn't sure they could even recognize what passed as a smile for me now, but I hoped the intent was obvious.

In the produce section I loaded up on more fruit than I'd ever regularly bought before. While I may look like a bird of prey, I was finding I loved fruit for random snacking, better than my old standbys of granola bars, chips and chocolate bars. I heard a delighted squee and before I could react, small arms were wrapped around my legs. A young girl was hugging me while her horrified mother rushed to catch up.

"I'm sorry! I'm so sorry, ma'am. She got away from me!" the mother apologized.

"It's okay," I reassured her. I didn't even react to being called 'ma'am'; after yesterday there was no denying that aspect of me.

I gently knelt down, displacing the young girl so I could see her better and she could see me. "What's your name?"

"I'm Rose. You're pretty."

"Hello Rose, I'm Skyfire. And you're very cute too. But you shouldn't run away from your mother like that." I glanced up at her mother, now a few steps away, seeing both her own curiosity and getting tacit approval to go on.

"I know. But I had to see you. You're so pretty."

I spread my wings a bit and rustled my feathers. She gasped and hesitantly reached out to touch my feathers. "I'm happy to be seen. Just be careful. You could get into real trouble running away like that. Make sure you ask your parents if it is okay first, right?"

"Right." She said, "Can I be like you when I grow up?"

Gods, I hope not. I thought, trying to figure out how best to respond. "Probably not," I said carefully. "But you'll be just as beautiful in your own way."

"Come on, Rose. We should let Ms Skyfire finish her shopping in peace," the mother said, reclaiming her daughter.

I stood up and pulled my wings back in. "It was no bother. Have a nice evening."

The rest of my shopping trip had more similar interruptions, especially once I got into the aisles where it was harder to avoid people. I did my best to stay friendly and unthreatening while people scratched their curiosity.

Finally, I was done and at a cashier. Normally I just used the self checkouts, but with the number of fruits and veggies I had that would have required entering a lot of codes I wasn't familiar with on a touch screen my talons would play hell with, I figured a cashier was my best option. The teenaged cashier did a quick double take when I scanned my points card, but otherwise got through my order quickly.

"One last thing," I said as I tapped my card to pay. "Do you happen to have the number of a delivery service? I've got a few too many bags to fly back with, and I can't fit in my car any more."

"Delivery service?" The cashier took a moment to process my request then started rummaging in the paperwork under the register. "Right, we have one, I've got it somewhere.... Here it is."

"Thanks." I snapped a picture of the business card and finished loading things back into my cart.

Outside, away from the entrance, I called for the cab and waited. Twenty minutes later, I saw a van with the company's markings drive slowly past the store entrance. I stepped to the edge of the sidewalk and waved my wing. The driver spotted me, and he seemed to have second thoughts on taking this job.

He stopped next to me and the passenger window rolled down. "Pickup for Mr Farell?" the driver asked, sounding extremely skeptical.

"That's me," I confirmed. "Just need you to take my groceries home. I've got my own way back."

"Really? Just your groceries? Is someone there to take them?"

"Just my groceries, and I'll meet you there. While I might be able to squeeze in the back, it would not be comfortable. And I'm pretty sure I can beat you there." I tugged the side door open and started loading the bags.

"I doubt it, I know these streets," the driver boasted.

"We'll see," I countered. "Ten extra bucks plus whatever extra on the running meter if you get there before me," I challenged, giving my address. "But I will NOT cover any tickets if the cops catch you doing something you shouldn't."

The driver thought it over, then looked at my offered hand. He shook it. "You're on."

"Great, I'll see you there."

I watched him until he pulled out of the parking lot, then took off. I was confident my money was safe; not just because of the labyrinth I lived in, but because of how busy the roads were this time of night. I made it home with plenty of time to spare.

I waved to the driver from my porch as he pulled in. Even in the dim dusk light, I could read his 'what the fuck' expression.

"How'd you do it?" he asked, giving me a hand unloading my bags.

I shook my wings, "I literally can go as the crow flies, but my carrying capacity sucks." I paid for the delivery and gave 7.50$ as a tip, not quite the 10$ I promised if he'd beat me, but a generous one nonetheless.

Friday, October 13

Friday the Thirteenth went by without incident, despite the fact that I was half black cat. Or maybe it went well because I was that. There was a heavy frost on the ground when I flew in to work, but other than my hands being a bit chilly, I didn't feel the cold. I was actually the first into the office and felt like I finally put in a somewhat normal, productive day.

It wasn't entirely work focused. I spent a bit of time thinking of my Low Flying Griffon sign idea. I wrote up a quick proposal for it and sent it to some city counselors to think about. The rules on flying in the city were still very much in flux, but I knew they'd be trying to firm them up quickly, and I wanted to make sure the griffon voices were heard before someone got the bright idea to just make the downtown a no fly zone, or some similarly stupid ideas.

As the day wore on, I found it harder and harder to focus on work tasks, but not for any biological reasons. I had plans I was eager to get started on back home; a touch of normalcy in an otherwise surreal week. There were two holidays I decorated the house for, Christmas and Halloween. Normally I tried to wait until the fifteenth to put up my Halloween decorations, but there was a snowstorm forecast for that day; the first storm of the season. And I had a griffon gathering planned for Saturday. So I mentally plotted and planned to start decorating when I got home. I figured decorating on Friday the Thirteenth felt appropriate.

When I got home from work, I hauled a few containers up from the basement and started setting things up. Mostly I used inflatables, so I just had to tie them to the right spots around the front and plug them in. Three dragons, a little pumpkin reaper and a big rainbow ghost would greet people coming onto my lot over the next few weeks. Wrapping the strings of purple and orange lights around the railings was trickier than I was used to due to my changed hands, but I managed to get them up. It did make me worried about how I would do the much more extensive Christmas lights next month, but FutureSimon would handle that. I verified the view from the street and from above, and was satisfied with my work for the day.

Saturday, October 14

Saturday brought another heavy frost and gray overcast skies. I could practically taste the coming snowstorm, but the weatherman was saying there shouldn't be any precipitation today. The second griffon support gathering was happening today, this time at Hawrelak Park. The park was a large park on a meander of the North Saskatchewan River, just a bit outside downtown, not too far from my neighbourhood.

I showed up extra early, just before noon. I killed time capturing a few portals and spinning some PokeStops and just enjoying the day. I drifted to the west and 'visited' the zoo from above, until I spotted movement coming from the east.

Zooming in, I spotted a pair of griffons flying side by side. I didn't recognize them, but they seemed to recognize me as one said something and pointed towards me. Their plumage was mostly browns and blacks, but one had tiger striped fur and the other had tawny cougar fur. I waved to them and flew back to the park airspace. I settled into a circle centred on the big pavilion in the park, a couple hundred meters up.

"Hey there!" the tiger striped one called out once they were in shouting range. "This the right place?"

"It is. Welcome!" I called back. I saw them start to backwing and try to stop in midair. "No! Don't do that. Just follow me in the circle around the pavilion," I shouted.

It took a few minutes for them to figure it out, but soon the three of us were orbiting the structure below. I sped up a bit so we were diametrically apart. "Good, good. This is what we called a talking circle down in Fort Parker," I explained. "We can't exactly hover in mid air, but we can glide for days and we've got great hearing. So if we weren't going anywhere in particular, we'd pick a landmark and circle it if we wanted to talk to someone without landing."

"That makes sense. A lot easier than what we were doing," the tiger one said. "I'm Judy, and this is my husband, Steve."

"We just came in from Fort Saskatchewan. We weren't sure how long it would take, so we left early."

The big town was about thirty klicks to the east of the city; I knew it had to be a decent flight especially if they weren't used to flying that much. "I'm sure more will be arriving soon. I'm Skyfire. Fort Sask? That's quite the trip. Are you tired?"

"Not at all, barely winded to be honest. It was a great flight, mostly gliding over the river. It looks so different from up here," Steve said.

"Well if you want a break we can go down. How's life treating you out at the Fort?"

"It's a little rough at times, but not too bad. I'm pretty sure we're the only griffons out there."

We chatted more, soon joined by a few more local griffons from the north west. A half dozen of us were circling and talking like it was no big deal, but it was becoming a big deal for those on the ground. I saw more and more people stopping and pointing up at us. I was so busy people watching, that I didn't even notice the blue jay griffon join us.

"Hey guys, there's no rush, but Brian and some friends are setting up some snacks at the picnic site over there," Michelle called out, dropping into the middle of the circle. She pointed to the site where a half dozen humans and a few griffons were setting up snacks on concrete tables. Her message given, she spread her wings and turned her fall into a glide to the picnic area. I was impressed at how much better she was flying now. The circle immediately dissolved and followed her down.

We chatted, snacked and mingled, sharing tips and stories about what we were experiencing; well, most of what we were experiencing. Talk of Heat and Peaks was limited to hushed whispered conversations between close friends. From what I inadvertently overheard, the former guys were usually not happy to have gone through it, and the former females were not eager to experience it. The general hope was that future heats would be much less intense.

"Are you sure you're not cold? Not even chilly?" Brian asked. He had a portable coffee mug with a hint of steam rising from it.

"Not at all. In fact, I'm a bit warm from flying for the past few hours," I said. I looked around and noted most of the fifty-some griffons were topless. And most of the couple dozen humans were bundled up with lightly insulated jackets, hats and gloves; not quite winter gear but by far dressed more warmly than the rest of us.

Brian shook his head in amazement. "It's single digits out, lower with the wind. And you're all out here in shorts, and complaining that it's hot. Amazing."

I chuckled and pressed into my bicep feathers, the talons going in deep before reaching skin. "What can I say? We have our own built in downy coats. Canada Goose only wishes they could make jackets this good."

"So are you looking forward to the storm tomorrow? The first snow of the season."

"Actually, I am. Flying in the rain was interesting, and snow should be just as much fun. Though I'll be sick of it by March like all Canadians."

We chatted a bit more, then separated. Michelle caught my eye and we drifted over to a quiet area.

"How are you doing?" she asked quietly. I knew what she was asking about.

"Now, I'm doing fine, back to normal even. But Wednesday was horrible. That reminds me, I need to thank Darryl and John for the toy advice. You definitely want to pick up some heavy duty ones before your heat."

She looked away. "Good advice. I'll see what I can find," she said.

I started counting the days, and realized the next wave of heat was just over a week away. Time was beginning to fly it seemed. "Are you going to be okay? You don't have anyone to help do you? I went through it alone and it was hell."

"Locally? Not really. I mean there's Brian, but he's my cousin. That's just icky even if we are different species now. Everyone else is down at Elkwater, and once again, family."

I paused a moment, debating the offer I was about to make. I decided to go for it, as a friend only. "It's up to you, but if you want someone to help you with it, let me know. No matter what day it happens to be."

"Thanks, I'll think about it."

I gave her a quick hug, and went to get more snacks. I surveyed the large gathering, realizing I hadn't seen this many griffons since I left Fort Parker. It was comforting in a way, even with a growing crowd gathering on the outskirts. I looked up at the cloudy skies, judging the clouds were well above our own enforced ceiling. A new idea began to form for something to do.

I jumped onto one of the tables and waited, feeling human and griffon eyes turn towards me.

"Hi everyone, I think you know who I am. Last week, we went over the importance of proper preening, and I'm overjoyed to see you've taken that to heart. I hope you all feel better because of it as well."

I paused, getting a few cheers and some applause.

"This week, since we're outside, the weather's good and there are so many of us, I figure it might be good to get some flying practice. Share some tips I picked up down south, and get used to flying with other flyers and in crowded skies."

I surveyed the group again and smiled. "So, if anyone wants to listen to this bird, follow me up to 100 meters, and we'll do a talking circle."

I kicked off the table and climbed up a short distance into the sky, setting the radius for the talking circle. Below, most of the griffons took off almost at once, causing an impressed collective gasp from the crowd of humans. Most of us were not used to flying in formation, so it took me a few minutes to wrangle everyone into position and to explain the reasoning behind the talking circle. There were a few other experienced flyers who chipped in with advice and helped with the organizing.

Once that was covered, I brought everyone up to our ceiling. Five hundred metres was our limit for free flying, and that was high enough for city flying. It was higher than most of them had ever gone, and I could see a lot of people were letting go of some of their height fears.

"Of course, our actual ceiling is around 10k feet, about five times higher than this," Jenifer said. She was a peregrine-pantheress griffon, black furred like me. I'd only met her today. "That's still well below air traffic, so you don't need to worry about jets or anything like that.

"But it is high enough to catch some good winds, and to stay up there pretty much forever if you wanted to with very little effort.

"The government doesn't want us regularly going up that high yet, but I've been talking with some groups to figure out what we need and what will keep Transport Canada and NavCanada happy. For now, they mainly want us to use those higher levels for long distance travel, they want us to get a transponder and they want us to register a rough flight plan. It sounds complicated, but once you figure it out, it's not too hard. I just followed those rules last week to fly up here from Medicine Hat."

There were a few questions, and then we moved on to other topics, covering tips for flying in crowds, the 'rules of the skies' that were starting to form. Foremost was the tip to always be aware of what was in front of you and below you. Knowing what was above and behind was important as well, but much like a car driver had to pay more attention to traffic ahead, flyers were expected to watch what was ahead and below.

The impromptu lesson wrapped up with a bit of a flying show, as the more experienced fliers showed off what they were doing. I was properly pwned by Jenifer in our diving contest, the peregrine easily leaving the phoenix in her dust. Judging from all the lenses pointing up at us, I was sure that "#EdmontonAirShow" was about to start trending.

Week 4

Sunday, October 15

I woke up earlier than I wanted to, especially for a weekend, but I was eager to peek outside. I split the blinds that kept the room dark, and saw swirling white. It was snowing out.

"Woohoo! Snow Day!" I shouted, grabbing my shorts and pulling them on.

I stepped out onto the back deck and looked around. It wasn't a blizzard, but it was steadily snowing. The ground had just enough warmth that it wasn't sticking, but the porch and roof had a few centimetres on already.

I jumped up and took to the air. The swirling snow cut down visibility and dampened the noises, to the point I quickly felt I was alone in a white space. I almost expected my icy goddess to appear, but all I ran into was changing air currents.

The novelty wore off fairly quickly, but it was fun while it lasted. I dropped down enough to get some landmarks, and made a spur of the moment decision on what to do next. It was time to do a Canadian stereotype and visit Tim Hortens.

As usual, there were a dozen cars in the drive thru line up at Tims, trying to get a coffee fix before church or whatever other plans people had for a snowy Sunday. The actual parking lot was almost deserted. I landed near the building and jogged to the door.

As usual, my appearance caused double takes and stares. I shook off the dusting of snow I'd picked up on the way down and headed to the cash.

"A large hot chocolate, whipped topping. A sausage and egg biscuit, and a boston cream," I ordered, trying to act like it was normal.

The latest chatter online was that we should try to encourage normalcy, especially those of us outside the Changed zones. Get regular people used to our appearance and our habits so we didn't cause a stir every time we went out. This was especially important in the bigger cities, where our total numbers were lost in population rounding errors.

The cashier stuttered a bit, but finally confirmed the order. He was torn between asking questions, and just treating me like any other customer, but ultimately he chose the latter. I collected my order at the station and went to a tall table near the windows to eat. I regretted my choices as soon as I unpacked the bags; I'd ordered out of habit without thinking, and the choices weren't exactly beak friendly. I nibbled and sipped my breakfast, watching the snow fall and the traffic go by. I could see the staff watching me, but they left me in peace.

My hunger sated, I winged it home and spent the day doing chores; cleaning up, doing laundry and all the other stuff I hadn't really focused on since returning. I placed an order for more shorts and tops and browsed some of the other adaptations designers were coming up with. I added some shoes to the order, but the chest packs didn't look comfortable enough yet to spend money on.

Late in the day, the biologists down in Fort Parker began to share some updates. The first pregnancies were confirmed, as well as the first eggs. A week after the first heat, the non-pregnant griffons had produced a grapefruit sized egg. The eggs themselves tended to be rather beautiful in their own way, usually having a colour pattern that matched the griffon. But the thought of making one of them made me uneasy. I retrieved a grapefruit from the kitchen and carefully considered it. I did not like what I saw, but it was as inevitable as the heat was.

Monday, October 16

After lunch on Monday, Greg summoned me for a meeting about the recovery services project. I knew it was a project the company was working on to launch in the new year, but it wasn't in my orbit. Curious about why they needed me in particular, I tried to pry more information out of him, but Greg stayed mum.

So just before two, I went downstairs and headed for the big boardroom. Greg was waiting for me there, along with the recovery team leads and what seemed like three quarters of the marketing department all seated around the table. The marketing folk were at the far end of the table, but even a blind man could see their eyes light up as I came in.

"Hey guys, what's going on?" I asked, rolling an empty chair away from the table and standing next to Greg. He almost seemed sorry for having called me down.

"Good afternoon, Simon, thank you for coming down," Mitchel said. He was in charge of the recovery project. "We have a proposal we would like to run past you."

I began to suspect what might be happening, but waited for the other wing to drop. "Sure, let's hear it."

Mitchell started his presentation, going through the proposed division and what it was going to do. It was stuff I was familiar with. It affected Rob's teams more than my teams, but it was important for the company as a whole, and I'd heard it all before. At the end of the spiel, he flicked to a new slide I hadn't seen before, with the name of the new division.

Phoenix Recovery Services

A cartoon firebird rose up behind the logo, wings spread wide, and I knew what they were after.

"You want me to be the mascot?" I asked, piecing things together.

Sarah from marketing nodded. "We wouldn't phrase it that way, but this is an opportunity that is hard to miss. We would like to license your appearance for promoting the new division, and possibly the entire company."

"What would that mean?" I asked, bracing myself for a flood of legalese and advertising terminology.

"We want to license your image. You, or Skyfire, can continue doing what you normally do. But we'd be the only ones who could use you for advertising. For you personally, we'll set up an ad campaign for you, mainly picture taking and filming, and a tradeshow or two throughout the year. I believe you're already familiar with green screen work right?"

I looked away, feeling Skyfire's new world crashing into Simon's regular normal world, and found it was much more uncomfortable than I anticipated. "I guess I've started to learn a bit," I said cautiously.

"We'll work with you and Greg to do these shoots and PR events around your existing duties. We'll need the most of your time in November and December, in the leadup to Phoenix's launch. After that it might be a day or two a month for new scenes."

I looked at Greg to try and judge his feelings on the situation. "What do you think? Do you mind someone else getting their talons in me?"

"They make a good presentation. But it is your body, your look. So I'll back you whichever you decide."

I thought it over a bit more, not sure if I wanted to be the face of the company, but it might be fun. I felt torn, Skyfire wanting to pull her way, while Simon wanted to stay on the downlow. Skyfire won out.

"Okay, I'll do it. Conditional on the contract we work out. I'll need time to get an independent expert to review it as well, and to find such an expert. I know you guys and you wouldn't do me wrong intentionally, but I'd hate to discover I can't do PSAs any more because we didn't phrase it right in the fine print."

MItchell and Sarah beamed and stood up. I walked around the table to meet them and shake their hands. "Thank you Simon, you've opened up a world of new options for us. We're going to make a huge splash with your help," Sarah said.

"I'll do my best, but don't expect Oscar worthy performances. You'll be lucky to get Raspberry worthy performances."

Sarah laughed, "Well we're just looking for your image and your movements. We'll probably end up dubbing your lines after. Luckily, you barely move your beak when you speak, so beak-syncing is trivial."

Wednesday, October 18

My new normal was beginning to be established, and it felt surprisingly similar to my old normal. I'd wake up, fly to work, put in my hours, and fly home, sometimes with a detour for errands. The city did put griffon warning signs on the block around my office, but they also asked that I not take off or land along the main street to minimize traffic disruptions.

My libido returned in force a day or two after the heat. At first it was mainly my female side, but little Simon started stirring more and more as time went on. I began to summon the icy goddess on my terms, so she wasn't waking me up at the crack of dawn any more, even if that's when I usually woke up for work.

Tuesday was a little abnormal; I always loved my chocolate milk even before changing, so finishing off a jug before work didn't strike me as odd. By mid morning though, I was yearning more. The office social committee ran a snackbar in the kitchenette, and there were four ice cream sandwiches left over from the summer that I bought and devoured. Lunch always included yogurt and cheese, so that sated the urges for a while longer. By mid afternoon, I had to head down to a convenience store across the street to get more milk. With all those urges hitting me, I was well aware of what was going on, based on the experiences others reported; deep in my loins, my first egg was being assembled whether I wanted it or not.

Wednesday I woke early and debated what to do. I went through my morning routine, feeling normal enough but I knew something was coming. So far, reports were saying laying happened in the morning and didn't take too long, so I doubted I would need to take a full day, but it was something I certainly didn't want to do in the office.

I didn't bother dressing, anticipating what was about to come. I used a handheld mirror to peak down below, but didn't feel or see anything different. I ended up prowling around the first floor of my house, feeling restless, knowing something was about to happen but not knowing when.

By eight, I was beginning to think I'd been wrong, when I felt something cramp up hard in my loins. I gasped and bent forward, stumbling against the couch for support. I leaned against the end of the couch for a long moment, trying to straighten up, but every time I almost got up, the muscles twinged again. Trying to time movements between contractions, I carefully limped and pulled myself back upstairs to my bedroom and fell onto my bed.

I laid face down on the bed for a long moment, panting and grunting as those muscles kept contracting, squeezing on something hard within me. I wasn't sure if I was actually feeling it or just imagining it, but I swore I could feel something moving in me.

I eventually pulled my legs up under me and sat back, legs spread. I braced myself with one hand and reached down to feel my vulva. It was moist and relaxed, feeling nice to touch but not like I was aroused. I froze and grunted, feeling another contraction that caused my opening to twitch.Not wanting to risk scratching myself with my talons, I moved my hands away. Another contraction hit me and I felt the urge to press down, panting harder. I was sure I could feel something moving now, spreading my tunnel wider than I'd felt before, muscles stretching around it.

The contractions continued rhythmically and I tried to time my pushing with them. The solid mass was somewhere around my pelvis now, near an opening that I was sure was way too small for what was about to go through. My eyes teared up and I pushed hard, feeling the mass stretch my opening. It pulled back then pushed out again a few more times as I kept trying to get it out. Finally I felt it seem to reach the tipping point, holding for a moment before the pressure was gone. I heard and felt a mass thump onto the mattress.

I panted and held still for a long moment, still getting contractions, but they didn't feel as strong, having nothing to push through. Finally I felt I could look down, seeing a red and orange grapefruit sized egg on the bed in a pool of liquids. The shell was drying quickly in the air.

I touched it carefully, not believing it had come from me. The shell felt like a regular egg shell, still warm from my body. I picked it up carefully, surprised at how heavy it was. I got off the bed, feeling things settling down down below. It may have just been psychosomatic, but I felt lighter with the mass now in my hands.

I went to the bathroom and left the egg on a hand towel. I washed up, especially around my groin. Now that it was all over, it looked normal again, still a bit sensitive to the touch.

I left the egg in the bathroom, and went back to the bedroom. I finished dressing for work, and stripped the sheets off the bed. My claws and talons were doing a number on my linens, to the point I knew I would need to get some new ones soon. I figured these ones were still good for a few more washes at least.

After cleaning up and getting some breakfast that did NOT include any eggs, I felt normal enough to start my day. Leaving the egg in the bathroom, I took off for work, not intending to think about it until much later.

Traffic outside the office was a lot heavier this late in the morning. There were even cars parked at the top level of the parking garage when I landed there. I dropped down to the alley and walked confidently to the main entrance, ignoring the looks and whispers I generated.

Rob checked in on me soon after I got settled. I motioned for him to come in and close the door when he knocked.

"Hey there, you look a bit spooked. You feeling okay?" he asked once the door was closed.

"Yeah, I'll be fine. I just had a really weird morning," I explained. "Griffon weird," I clarified before he could ask.

"So you're good now?" he asked, curious but not curious enough to confirm what he suspected.

"Yeah this time it wasn't too bad. I'm fine now." I checked my calendar and saw a reminder. "Since you're here, I do have a favour to ask of you again. I need my car moved."

"Sure, where to this time? Vancouver? Regina? Ottawa?"

I chuckled, "Nah, just to a local garage. They're going to fix up my damage so I can eventually sell it."

"That's no problem, I'll check with Neets. When are you thinking?"

"Any time that's good for you, as long as it's by Monday. They've given me a preliminary estimate based on pics I sent, so I just need to drop it off."

"We'll let you know. Good luck tonight with the raids."

"Thanks. I'm not sure what to expect. I had to cancel last week, which probably gave more time for word to spread." I shrugged my wings. "Oh well, what will be will be...."

After work, I took off for the raid hour. The weather was nice for mid October, gray skies, single digit temperatures. Most of the snow had melted but there were messy snowbanks in the shaded areas. Realizing how messy and slushy winter was going to get made me glad I had some form of footwear on order.

I was half an hour early, and I was surprised at the small crowd already there; a couple dozen people including a bunch of kids. I circled overhead a few times, then let out a screech to make people look up. I waved and kept circling, giving them a chance to see me. I spotted Brian on the edge of the crowd with Carl. He had a camera catching my flight while Carl was getting reaction shots. I waved specifically to them and looked for a landing spot.

There were too many people milling around to find a clear landing runway, so I had to do a shorter superhero landing. I did a closer circle over a mostly empty area of sidewalk and shouted for people to make way.

The space was tighter than I was used to, but I managed to stop over it and drop, wings cupping the air to slow the fall a bit more. My paws hit the ground and I kept dropping, just managing to avoid having to catch myself with my talons. The crowd applauded as I stood, wings still partly out.

"Thank you, thank you," I said, bowing to the crowd. "I'm sorry I didn't make it last week, but I hope to make it up today." I peeked at the time and saw we still had a lot of time. I switched my phone over to the game as I headed towards Ryan, the crowd parting for me.

We exchanged fistbumps and greetings. I leaned a bit closer to talk more privately. "Sorry about last week, I was in no condition to do anything. I hope there weren't too many disappointed people."

"A few," Ryan confirmed. "But you did warn us ahead of time. Was it really that bad?"

I shuddered at the memory. "Worse. I'm already dreading next month. And the gift it left this morning wasn't much funner."

He took a moment to put the pieces together, and flushed red. I smirked a little inwardly and tapped the screen with my stylus, getting a lay of the land. "Two and two, then we're running. Should get a few late spawns if we have the numbers," I noted, getting down to business. "Got a mega at the Kin club too; we should get there in time."

We chatted a bit more, then I moved away to mingle a bit more. Those who were around two weeks ago greeted me with no hesitation. Other regulars who had missed my first appearance were a bit more hesitant, not sure what to make of it. Acting normally and talking about Pokemon as we normally did helped them relax. There were a lot of brand new people, many who never played the game and were just here to see me. I tried to stay friendly with them, but most realized the 'show' was basically over and drifted away by the time the Raid Hour started.

Brian snagged me for a chat as the event started. With the crowd behind me, I described what we were doing, why we did it, how my changes changed how I played, and how the group was taking having their own Moltres in their group. Off camera, I pointed out some of the regulars who I felt would give good flavour to his article.

By quarter after seven, the raids were done and we were just hanging out, talking about the game and future plans. If the pattern held, next Wednesday I'd be hitting peak male, something I'd been hearing mixed messages about. For now, I was tentatively planning to come out, but warned them I might be a no-show again.

Back home, I made my dinner, and vegged out in front of the TV. It wasn't until I was getting ready for bed that I remembered my 'gift' sitting on the bathroom counter. I lifted it up, looking at the red and orange shelled egg, wondering what to do with it. Part of me was tempted to keep it, but another part of me was squicked out by the thought.

Ultimately, I took it downstairs to the kitchen. I got a big bowl and carefully cracked an end of the egg. The shell was thicker than I expected, but with careful tapping I managed to make an opening I could chip bigger. There was a translucent membrane inside that I pierced with a knife. The egg contents I could then pour out, the yolk slipping out without breaking. It looked like a normal egg, only much bigger, maybe as big as a dozen eggs or so I figured. And it all came out of me.

I shuddered and took the bowl to the half bath and flushed the contents. I washed out the bowl, and rinsed the shell. I still wasn't sure what I wanted to do with it, but figured I could handle it later. I finished cleaning up and went to bed.

I laid in bed on the edge of sleep but not quite able to drop off. I knew I was balanced between the male and female, and the critical part of my mind was curious about it, too curious to let me slip away. I reached over to my bed table and found one of the vibrators and flicked it on low.

I began to run it over myself, over my nipples, feeling them harden, then along my sheath, coaxing my cock out. I rubbed it over my vulva, alternating between my cock and my labia, feeling both reacting. I smiled a bit, enjoying the feeling even more as I could sense my inner id was confused. For once a different part of me was seeking fun, and intended to show the beastial part of me that we didn't need bed shaking pleasure to have fun.

As my arousal increased, I slipped in deeper, pressing the vibrating toy against my clitoris and into my tunnel. I began to alternate slowly, rubbing my cock and running the toy along it, then slipping it back into my moist opening. In my mind's eye my lover was formless, though I was imagining what it would be like to feel that in me, even with its barbs.

I kept going slowly but steadily. I didn't care which way I went first, but having gone this far, I was determined to go both ways. I could feel myself tense a bit and left the toy vibrating in me. WIth my hand now freed, I gripped my cock, feeling the barbs on my palm. I squeezed and stroked up, and gasped, feeling it spasm, shooting over my belly. I barely had time to realize it when I reflexively tightened down on the vibrating toy in me. I arched my back and moaned, feeling the heat and bliss spread over me. A glorious eternity later, I laid limply on the bed, barely able to turn the toy off and pull it free. I finally slipped into sleep, still feeling the double glow.

Saturday, October 21

On Saturday, we gathered at a hall on the east side of the city. It was a private gathering, intended to give us a chance to come to terms with what we'd been through and what was coming up for the rest of us. Our old male and female separations were breaking down and we were just griffons at different points on the same roller coaster. This point was made abundantly clear with the news we got.

About fifty of us showed up at this meeting. Most surprising was the presence of Judy and Steve. It was an evening meeting, and Fort Saskatchewan was a long way to fly at night. They obviously wanted to say something, but they held their tongues until Michelle welcomed everyone and explained the intent of the evening.

"Hi everyone," Judy said nervously. She stood next to her husband, holding hands tight. "We just wanted to share some news with friends. And in a way it fits the theme Michelle wants for tonight."

Steve smiled a bit and looked around the room. "How many of us went through the heat?" he asked, raising his hand. I raised mine along with about half the room.

"Now, lower your hand if you've had your egg," he said.

We all lowered our hands, except for him. It took a second for us to realize the implications.

"Congratulations!" Michelle exclaimed, moving to hug the couple. "Are you pretty sure?"

Steve nodded, "My heat was on time, so the egg is almost a week late now. And I don't think I'm going male, not fully. I guess I'll know for sure in a few weeks."

"How are you feeling about it?" I asked, giving my own hugs and congratulations.

"Nervous, but happy. We were trying before this happened. I never figured I would be the mother," Steve laughed.

"I'm sure you'll do fine. Both of you. Congratulations again," I said, stepping aside so others could come up as well.

We broke up into smaller groups to chat for the rest of the evening, sharing our own experiences. They usually weren't as interesting as what Steve and Judy shared, but for those who hadn't gone through the heat yet, it was a learning opportunity. We all hoped it wouldn't be as bad for them, but we wouldn't know until next week.

Towards the end of the gathering, I wandered over near Michelle and waited for her to finish her conversation. I nibbled on some carrots, not looking directly at her, but it was obvious I was waiting on her.

"Hey Sky," she greeted me, snagging a pepper strip from my plate. "I was hoping to talk to you. I wanted to thank you for your offer last week, but I'm going to decline it."

I paused, confused for a moment until I remembered offering to be there during her heat. She continued, not noticing my confusion.

"I really appreciate the offer, and I may regret not taking you up on it. But I'm a little concerned about the risks. I'll be peak fem, you'll be near peak male." She glanced over at Steve, and I nodded, understanding her implications.

"That's okay, I understand fully," I said, inwardly relieved to be clear of that obligation. "And maybe it won't be as bad for you. You've had more time to get used to the hormones, and frankly, you're more used to the equipment than all us guys were."

She nodded, but didn't seem convinced. I knew the feeling; there were so many unknowns about our new bodies, it would be months before we figured out what was normal, if anything could be normal.

"How close are you?" I asked, not wanting to pry too deeply, but a bit curious.

"Not tomorrow, I'm pretty sure of that. But I can feel something building. Maybe Monday or Tuesday I think. I just want to get through today and try and clear my backlog a bit before I lose a day or two."

I nodded in sympathy and sighed. "Well I apologize in advance, but I think I'm about to add to your mountain of work," I opened, shifting back to my original intentions. "I'm a bit worried about us, all of us. There's too few of us in the city, so everywhere we go, we tend to cause a stir."

"True, but as you said, there are so few of us; that will always happen."

"It will, but we can mitigate it a little. We live in our own neighbourhoods and people there are getting used to us being just like anyone else. But we should expand the familiarity more. Expose ourselves to more people so when we do go out, it's less of a 'once in a lifetime' experience and more of a 'hey, it's you' experience."

She nodded a bit, chewing on the idea and the strip of pepper. "I've seen chatter in the other groups about that. You're thinking of community outreach right?"

"Yeah, I guess that's how you could phrase it. Reach out to the schools, arrange visits. Ditto the service clubs, the Kinsmen, the Y's men and so forth. Go interact with people and show we're people as well." I tilted my head towards Steve and Judy. "So when more of us have kids of our own, the kids will just be kids."

"It's a good idea, and something happening in the other cities. I just haven't been organized enough to start it up here yet. Our numbers are in that awkward spot where we have enough people that this is needed, but not enough to give us a good pool of random social connections to draw from. So are you volunteering?"

I held up my hands in terror, "Ack! No! No! No! No no no! I'm a behind the scenes bird. I'll do my best to keep things going smoothly, but someone else should be the beak in charge."

"A shame, you've got a degree of celebrity about you already, you'd probably be perfect as the face."

I shook my head, "No that's actually probably exactly why I should NOT be the face. We want people to see us as normal folk who look really different. Just because I lucked out in the plumage department doesn't mean I should be the poster bird of our cause. We should probably try and get an eagle or hawk to lead this push if we can," I said, looking over the crowd.

"I'll send out some feelers and see how they're doing it down in Calgary and in Montana. This does dovetail well with some of the requests I've been getting." I tilted my head and waited for her to continue. "The local rezes, they've been reaching out, trying to see if a griff could visit."

I winced inwardly, seeing a whole new minefield opening up. I was aware of the Aboriginal situation in a general sense, but I treated it as "Somebody else's problems", for the politicians and sociologists to work out. Before taking the avian-feline kink, my own lineage traced back from the European side of the Atlantic. While I was aware of their culture and history, it was something I treated with a light touch.

Michelle picked up my hesitation and nodded as well. "Yeah, I've been trying to dodge that as well, but I shouldn't put it off much longer."

"Do we have any Aboriginal griffons up here?"

She shook her head. "None that have identified themselves. Calgary's got a dozen and Hat's got lots, so I'm hoping I can lean on them, along with maybe arranging some cultural sensitivity pre-meetings so those who do visit don't step in things too much. But there's so much going on...."

I pulled her in and gave her a hug. "You're doing great. Just remember to delegate. And don't be afraid to say No and to procrastinate. Not everything has to be done at once."

I held her for a long moment, feeling a little of the tension in her body relax. She finally pushed back and looked around. "Well, there is one thing I can't really procrastinate on. Deciding on what we're going to do next weekend."

"Yeah, I was thinking on that, and this suggestion goes against everything I hold sane, but it also goes along with the community outreach ideas." She looked at me as the idea crystallized in my mind. "Why don't we gather at WestEd and just hang out at the mall?"

She began to laugh. I waited and watched her, until she stopped and stared. "You're serious?"

"As a heart attack. I hate the idea personally, but if we want exposure, if we want to make people see us as people, that's probably one of our best chances."

"But it's the weekend before Halloween, it'll be packed."

"Not as packed as the weekends after. Saint Nick's just waiting for Jack to let his guard down, and once the garland comes out, we're in the Christmas Crunch."

"But what will we do?"

"Hang out. Maybe do some shopping. But mainly pick one of the atriums and let people mingle with us, see that we're still people even if we've got feathers and claws now." I paused and looked down. "We'll probably want to remind our people to go human dress code though." I added, tapping the side of my breast.

She giggled and looked away. "You're insane, you know that. Ugh, I'm not sure I'll be in a good mindset to arrange that though."

"It's my idea, I'll own it. I'll drop a note to the mall tomorrow, and see what they feel. They may not want us there before Halloween, but maybe the weekend after would be fine. That tends to be a little quieter before Christmas spills over everything."

"Good, let me know if you need anything, and ping Angela if you need anything financial."

Week 5

Sunday - Tuesday, October 22 - 24

Sunday was another rough day for me. It was one month in this new body, and it was finally sinking in that this was for real, this was permanent. I had another small breakdown on a call with my parents that almost led to them flying back out, but I ultimately convinced them to wait. It helped that my first therapy session was scheduled for next week, something I knew would help, but also another piece of baggage in my pile.

Monday passed by almost normally, at least on the human side of my life. The former females were starting to have their heats now, and it seemed it was no easier for them than it had been for us. We truly were birds of a feather, and now we were all dreading how bad it might be to go through that monthly.

Work wise, I pitched an idea to Greg that he liked. It was a bit outside our wheelhouse, but we had enough programmers on my team to start incubating the idea. I hand picked a team and we started brainstorming a GriffRacer app. After our second gathering, I'd realized just how competitive we could be. So an app that we could use to challenge other griffons seemed natural. The team I formed was very interested in it, and expected to have an alpha ready within a week or so.

By Tuesday evening, I was feeling restless and horny as hell. My female side was basically asleep, no amount of touch would bring a reaction. My cock however was very eager, staying somewhat erect all the time and getting harder if my mind drifted towards any sort of sexual thoughts. My nipples also were extra sensitive and firm; wearing the top was annoying. It ultimately chased me home early.

Safely in the walls of my house, I stripped and found some relief, especially on my breasts.I ducked into the bathroom and stroked my hard cock hoping to get some relief from it as well. The motions and most of the sensations were familiar, with just enough differences to make it feel different. I cleaned up and felt a bit more normal, enough to get a meal and try to relax.

A few hours later, the feelings were too strong to ignore, forcing me to seek another relief. I was beginning to regret not finding time to visit the adult store before my male peak.

After the third time, I decided to use the lull to crash out while my hormones were somewhat calmed. .

Wednesday, October 25

My id woke up before I did. When my mind kicked into gear, I was pawing at myself, one hand squeezing and pinching my nipples while the other stroking my hard shaft. Before I could fully understand it, I felt myself bucking, thrusting upward, feeling my cock throb and release.I let out a screech of pleasure, and thumped back onto the mattress, panting hard. One hand still rubbed my breasts, and I felt a different wetness there.

"Aw fuck," I groaned, struggling to settle down. Despite my release, my cock stayed stubbornly at full mast, light barbs standing out against the dark flesh. I let my head drop back onto the pillows and looked up at the ceiling, my hands automatically switching positions, one stroking my furry sheath the other rubbing the other breast.

"Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck," I grumbled again, both lost in the feelings of pleasure, and just being overwhelmed. I was far too old to clearly remember adolescence, but if adolescence had been a candle, this was a flamethrower.

I wrestled control from my id and pulled my hands away, to stop making things worse. I rested and struggled to breath steadily and deeply. I could already feel the need building again and tried to ignore it.

All too soon, I couldn't resist any further and let my id take control again. I started rubbing and stroking again and all too soon I was bucking into the air again, barely keeping my screech contained.

This time, I forced myself to get up during my refractory period. I stumbled to the bathroom and gulped down multiple glasses of water. In the mirror, my feathers were a mess, and my chest was even worse. It was covered in a wet sticky mess from my belly and groin to my breasts, matting the fur down and dribbling to my sides. I could only stare at my reflection at a loss, not sure where I could even begin to clean myself up. Especially as I could feel the urges building again.

It quickly settled down into a pattern. A need that steadily built up until it had to be released, followed by a period I could almost feel normal. There was no real pleasure in the action, just a beastial urge that had to be satisfied.

The downtimes were almost worse. Those were the times my mind was clearer, when I could rehydrate myself, do a token cleanup, and ruminate on what I was going through. The lack of control was one of the most frustrating aspects of it all; to be so tied to my biology and unable to resist what I was going through was downright scary. I was thankful that Michelle hadn't asked me to be with her during her heat. Now that I was going through the male heat, I doubted we could have resisted doing things we might later regret.

Late in the afternoon, feeling no respite coming, my mind started going to darker places. It started thinking of what it would mean to go through this twice a month, to have my life be so tied to a tight calendar, and I began to worry I wouldn't be strong enough to handle it . For the first time since this change had been forced on me, I seriously wondered if I could keep going.

A few more rounds later, I sensed a change, the refractory periods were getting longer, the urges not quite as strong. I was exhausted, dehydrated and sore. I'd also gone through most of the lube I'd gotten for my heat. It wasn't easy, but I managed to wash my chest and belly a bit, to clear off some of my mess before the next round.

I braced myself against the counter and mentally debated if I had enough time to go down and get something other than water. Around noon I had risked it, and downed a few glasses of juice, but I hadn't been able to get back upstairs in time. I knew I had more cleaning to do downstairs because of it.

This time I decided I could risk it. I slowly made my way downstairs, not even jumping the last steps as I'd normally do. I was so exhausted and drained, I could barely stand the thought of climbing back up. I grabbed an orange and bit into it, feeling the juice squish over my beak and dribble down my chin. I was such a mess, I didn't care. The first one disappeared in a flash and I was halfway through a second orange before I could get my thoughts in gear.

I leaned against the counter, wings spread but limp, with no strength left. I was confident now that the peak had passed, the heat easing. I forced myself to reflect on the day. The dark phase was the scariest part that still loomed over all my thoughts. I tried to push it away a bit, but I was glad I had an appointment coming up soon.

With my mind occupied, my body did its own thing. My hand went to my breasts, massaging them gently, which I found helped me relax now. I lightly pinched my nipples and felt a wetness come out. In a daze I looked at the thick white cream on my talons, then gave it a lick. It was milk, thicker than whole milk or any other milk I'd ever seen, but milk. Milk I was making. I gagged a little and gulped down some water. I didn't want to dwell too much on what it meant to have lactated twice in two weeks now. So much of our biology and cycles was still unknown, and I didn't like being a trailblazer in that respect.

The male heat wasn't quite done yet, and I had to bolt to the lower bathroom to go again. It felt more controllable now though, and I thought I might be able to contain it next time. I chowed down on a third orange after cleaning again, and tried to decide what to do next. I decided I needed some contact, even if it was just virtual.

I sent Michelle a message to see if she was available to chat. Her heat had been yesterday, so I hoped she had recovered enough. The call was coming in before I could move.

"Hey there. Give me a sec, throwing you onto the TV," I said, answering without the video. It took a minute for the connections to route. I flopped onto the couch and let the camera click on.

"Hey Michelle. Thanks for answering," I said.

"Damn Sky. You look like hell," she greeted me. She sounded as exhausted as I felt.

"I feel like hell. And I owe you an apology. The male peak was a lot worse than I expected."

She chuckled weakly. "I think all the guys and girls owe the others apologies. We clearly underestimated what the other was going through during 'our' peaks."

"It was just so much more than I expected, so beastial, so primal...." I shuddered, feeling another wave building, and forced it back down. "I... " I paused, not sure what I wanted to say. "Thanks for answering. It's rough to go through it alone. But I'm also glad you weren't here too."

She nodded in agreement. "Yeah, I feel the same. Are you okay, Sky?"

"To be completely honest, probably not. I went to some dark places this afternoon. The thought of having to go through this twice a month; it's scary. I'm not sure I'm up for it."

She looked worried for me. "Do you want me to come over? Are you okay?"

"No, you don't have to. I'm past that point for now. The thoughts scare me, but they're pushed back. I told you I'm getting my head checked next week right? I'll be fine until then, and probably beyond."

She seemed doubtful but let it go. "Fine, but if you feel them coming back, call me right away. Any time. We're all in this together, and we can help eachother out."

I took a breath and shifted gears. Partly I wanted to talk about anything else, and partly it was a necessity; we had a small community depending on us.

"I heard from WestEd. They're willing to let us hang out on a Saturday. But not this Saturday. Next one should be fine."

"Oh good. But bad too. I don't have anything planned for this weekend."

"Maybe that's for the best. Give people a break, time to finish processing this on their own." I paused, "Then again this is also just past a peak. Maybe we shouldn't be alone."

"The burdens of responsibility." Michelle let out a frustrated shriek that strained the speakers. "Sorry, it's just so hard to decide. So many are depending on us."

"All the more reason for us to take a weekend off. The timing is awkward, but shit happens. Make it clear if people need someone to talk to, or to hang out with, we're there. But otherwise, enjoy a weekend off."

We fell silent for a moment, lost in our thoughts. I spoke first, "You said guys and gals before, but I suspect that distinction is about to be retired, at least for griffons. After next week, we'll be back to where we started, to where we were when we changed. And we'll have all gone through the same thing. Well, other than Steve. We're all riding the same roller coaster, just on different places on the tracks, and given how our cycles wiggle, former guys and former gals won't be obvious any more."

"Well don't you have all the deep thoughts. I hope your therapist has booked an extra long session for you."

I laughed, "Not to start. Just an hour for now, but who knows what the next one will bring.

"I think I better get going. If I want to be presentable at all tomorrow, I'm going to need to start cleaning now." I paused and looked down, hesitating before quickly asking.

"Did you, did you have any problems lactating?"

"Problems lactating? Not at all, these girls had no problem letting out the cream. What a mess," Michelle said, hefting her breasts. "Wait, you said you did that during the heat; did you do it again?"

"Yeah, I guess it's hard to tell with my black fur. You didn't during your male peak?"

She shook her head, "Not this time. I guess I wasn't primed for it then. More fun to anticipate next time."

"More fun indeed. Thanks for talking. I gotta get going. And if my subconscious arctic goddess peeks her head out, I'm going to tear it off."

She laughed; over the many talks we'd had since meeting, my goddess and her similarities to Michelle had come up. "Yeah, these heats are the ultimate libido killer. It tends to rebound annoyingly fast though.

But I'm serious about what I said earlier, If you ever need a pick-me-up, call right away."

I disconnected and sat back. The last wave of heat was yearning to be released, and the bed was calling for me. I knew I had a lot to do before I could answer the call. Hours later, my chest was clean, and I'd done a preliminary full body preening enough to feel almost normal. I collapsed into a pile of fresh sheets and blankets, and fell into a dreamless sleep.

Thursday, October 26

The goddess wisely kept her head down through the night, letting me get a good deep sleep. I woke at my regular time, still feeling physically exhausted and worn out, but mentally I was back to normal. Preening and breakfast took longer than normal, but I still beat most of my coworkers to the office.

GriffRacer was starting to come together. A lot of the pieces were publicly available, at least for the alpha we were building. Late in the morning, I took the app out for a test, making sure it could detect some of the race modes we wanted to do, especially the take off and dive modes. It worked so well it almost woke my exhausted libido.

After lunch, I had a long session on the phone with WestEd. They were open to our hanging out, but they seemed to have a hard time understanding what 'hang out' meant. I was just looking for a spot where we could sit as a group and interact with people, without much publicity or circustry. They kept trying to push for a Meet The Griffons publicity push, with flashing signs and a banner and social media campaign next week. Somehow I managed to get them onto my page, but they seemed disappointed.

I hung up the phone and let out a long sigh. Doing this so soon after a peak was probably a mistake, but there weren't enough days in the week otherwise. I had one more big task I wanted to do before I could settle down to normal work. I checked the time and figured I had time to get a drink before the appointment.

My next appointment was going to be a bit of a surprise for humans and griffons alike. I'd run it past the group's accountant, Angela, to make sure I could promise what I was about to propose, and she had greenlit it. She seemed to appreciate what I was trying to pull off, and regretted she couldn't be there to see it in person.

I got back to my office just in time; the call was coming in just as I touched the mouse. I checked myself in a mirror, and accepted the call.

A red skinned horse's face appeared on the screen. She was using a selfie stick giving me a view of her shoulders and shiny black mane. The view bounced very slightly and the background was motion blurred. I could hear rhythmic thumping going on.

"Oh wow, it really is you," she greeted me, smiling wider. She was breathing hard but not panting.

"Hello, Doctor McKay. I hope I'm not interrupting anything?" I greeted her.

"Not at all, I'm just getting some laps in between classes. I hope you don't mind. Sometimes you just gotta run."

I smiled a bit, "I know what you mean. I've taken more than a few calls in the air myself."

"So, what can I do for you, Skyfire?" she asked. "Your message was a bit cryptic."

"My apologies, Doctor. It's a bit of a spur of the moment idea, so I sent the message before I got cold paws."

"Please, call me Rick. And cold paws? You guys don't get cold. Makes me jealous."

I chuckled a bit and moved on. "Right, so what I wanted to offer is open to the Calgary herd basically. The Edmonton Flock is going to have a hangout session at West Ed, Sat after next, and I thought it might be a good idea to invite the herd up. Edmonton will cover reasonable transportation to bring you up. We're inviting the Calgary flock up too."

"Ah, the community outreach stage. You guys are slacking up there." The Titan grinned and slowed, the pounding stopping and the background came into focus showing bleachers and a race track.

"We're doing our best with what we have. And WestEd's a big step for us. I just figured if we're doing it, we might as well go all out. And give you guys a chance to get a jump on your shopping with a free road trip to the mall. Most of us up here have never seen a Titan, so a chance to meet folk who've had a few more months to adjust might be good for us too. Especially after the past few weeks."

Rick nodded. "Yeah, the heats hit the flock down here hard too. It's one thing I'm not jealous about."

"I'm hoping shaking things up a bit will help us all, bring in some new faces, share the burden and all that," I said.

"It probably wouldn't hurt. We've been working a lot with the flock down here, and it seems to be working well. Give me a sec..." She brought the camera in closer, giving me a close up view of her muzzle as she checked some things.

"So you said most of you haven't seen Titans before, but you don't come across like that. Have you met Titans before?" she asked while she checked.

"Just a few. I spent quarantine down in Fort Parker, so I hung out with quite a few Titans, especially towards the end. But now that I'm a month along, I'm looking forward to talking with more of you, to sharing the turbulence we've encountered and maybe spot some rough patches still coming."

She nodded and pulled the phone away to show her full head. "Okay, Skyfire, you make a good pitch. And I'm not saying this just because we share colours. I like your idea, and someone else covering our transportation bill is always a plus. I'll spread the word and we can hash out the details later."

"Great. I'll send you Angela's contact info. She's our accountant and handling our GoFundme, so she'll be the one greenlighting the expenses. I already tentatively cleared it, so as long as you don't go too big, it should be good.

"Also, if you can, try to keep this somewhat on the downlow. I haven't told the rest of the birds up here about my plan, and I'd like to keep it somewhat of a surprise."

Rick grinned at the idea. "That should be fun.Keeping quiet shouldn't be too hard; there's only eight of us down here and I don't think we'd all go up. Thanks for the invite."

"Thanks for accepting. See you in a week and change."

I closed the connection and slid back on my ball chair, reaching my wings back to the wall to hold me up. I wasn't sure what I'd just set in motion, but it was moving now.

Week 6

Tuesday, October 31

Halloween dusked cool and crisp with clear skies. The temperatures hovered in the mid single digits with a thin layer of snow on the ground, but otherwise a perfect evening. I always loved the day, making sure my place was decorated and having a good set of treats (full sized candy bars) for the three dozen kiddies and kids at heart that usually showed up. Normally I didn't do much dressing up personally, and just offered the bars when they showed up; but this year I was looking forward to doing more.

Over the weekend, for the first time in decades, I actually picked out a few pumpkins, and tried my new talons at carving them. The talons were quite good at scoring the patterns I wanted, but to actually cut through I had to use knives. Still, I was proud of the results I put out on the steps.

On Halloween night, I left work a bit early to make sure I was ready. I lit the jack-o-lanterns and adjusted the lights on the railings enough to leave the corner of my deck near the garage in darkness. I set up a table I could keep a tray with the treats on, and a bench I could relax on. After a quick snack for dinner, I queued up Rocky Horror Picture Show on my tablet and settled down outside to wait.

I hadn't planned it that way, but my decoration layout worked in my favour. The big rainbow ghost at the base of the steps helped further hide me. And the dragons on the lawn and hanging over the railing tended to draw the eyes away from my spot.

So the first family to arrive had no idea I was there, even though there was still quite a bit of light. I held still, watching the parents guide a princess and a ninja turtle up my walkway, both quite young. I'd seen the family before, and knew they lived on the other end of the neighbourhood. I doubted they knew what had happened to me. The mother had a warmer jacket for the princess to put on between houses; the turtle's green shirt was bulging, indicating the jacket under the costume.

The kids were focused on the dragons as they went by, 'Raphael' daringly petting the big black dragon's head in passing. The princess rang the doorbell and waited, their eyes locked on the witch's face in a twig wreath hung on the door.

I waited a moment, then stood up slowly. Not wanting to scare them too much, I kept my wings back and crouched down.

"And what do we have here?" I asked, holding the tray of candy bars.

The kids jumped and let out eeps of fright, their eyes widening in surprise. Raphael backed up a few steps, while the princess stood her ground. The parents, seeing the reactions, jumped the steps onto the deck and froze, gaping at me as well. I smiled and waved a wing, still offering the treats.

"I figured, I'd really dress up for Halloween this year," I said, addressing the parents. "Sadly, I haven't figured out how to take it off."

"Oh wow... I didn't realize," the mother said slowly, still staring.

The Princess got over her initial fright and approached slowly. Her little brother, not wanting to be left behind, rushed to try and beat her. They ignored the treats, staring at me. I spread my wings slowly and I saw hands lift up curiously.

"Remember your manners," the father cautioned them, finding his tongue.

"May I touch?" the princess asked in awe.

I brought one wing forward to be in range. "You may. Just touch, don't grab," I said.

They took a few moments to satisfy their curiosity, before their mom reminded them they had a lot of houses to visit. They picked out their treats and left, waving at me. I waved back and settled back in my dim corner, listening to them chatter as they walked away.

There was a few minutes lull before I noticed the next group coming, a trio of preteens by themselves, One was Doctor Strange, the other was the Scarlet Witch, and the third was Hawkeye. I decided they were old enough to have a bit more fun with and waited, holding still while the dragons did their distraction. Hawkeye rang the bell while the other two stayed back half a step.

"Who Dares!" I shouted, standing up and spreading my wings wide. "... come to my house asking for treats?" I finished slightly quieter.

All three jumped in surprise and turned towards me. I was impressed by their reactions; Hawkeye lifted his bow (no arrows) while the witch and the sorcerer raised their hands ready to make the pseudo mystical movements. They recovered fairly quickly, and said the magic words for their treats, and for some selfies before they moved along.

The evening picked up from there, visitors often coming faster than I could fully reset. I did get a few more good startles and scares out of some of the kids and chaperones alike. I also ended up giving as many selfies as I did treats.

Towards the end of the evening, there was a slightly lull that gave me a chance to watch the movie again. I heard two people start up my walkway but I was too focused on the scene to look at them. I finally looked up when I heard them on the stairs, and my plans fell apart.

There were two kids, a younger brother dressed in a Batman suit, and an older sister, almost "too old" to be trick or treating, not that I believe in age limits for the holiday. The sister was obviously the chaperone while collecting her own loot. She wore a pair of black coveralls, a red short sleeve shirt and grey elbow length gloves. She had a skull cap over her head, also red, and red makeup over her face and neck. She had on a pair of black cat ears, and a plastic 'beak' over her mouth. A pair of angel wings, spray painted red, finished the look.

She spotted me before I could recover, and pointed at me, "It's You!"

I stood up and pointed back, "It's Me!"

Her face lit up and she did a quick turn, "Do you like? I made it by myself. Well with a little help."

My mind was blue screening; someone had made a halloween costume of me. A pretty good costume, better than I'd ever made when I was any age.

"It's great. Incredible," I stammered out.

She was practically glowing. "I couldn't figure out the tail but I figured the wings were the most important part. I hoped we would find you; I've seen you in the air so often, I knew I had to be you, but I didn't know where you were."

"It's amazing," I assured her, stepping further out of the shadows and crouching down so they could see me better. I did my usual wing spread, flapping them a bit to show off.

I posed for some pictures for her, and with her. I made sure her brother took a good picture of us doing the Spider-men pointing meme, even though she didn't fully understand the set up. I answered a bunch of her questions, mostly standard kid questions, until another group showed up. I made sure Skyfire and Batman got two bars each, and sent them on their way.

By nine, the last kids (and 'kids') had left. I'd given out nearly seventy bars for a change, over twice as many as I'd ever given out before. Towards the end I was worried I'd have to start digging into my emergency stash. I wasn't sure if it was because of me, or the appearance of griffons, or just having a good school night for trick or treating, but the turnout was much better than I had expected.

I turned off the lights, but left the inflatables; those would be packed up tomorrow. Happy with how the night had gone, I finished cleaning up and retired a bit early.

Thursday, November 2

My new therapist had an office on the other side of downtown from my work. After lunch, I took off into the gray skies, the temperatures in the low single digits but still not cold enough for me to really notice. His office was on the fourth floor of a five story building with an unmonitored lobby.

I took the elevator up and followed the signs, finding a small outer office with a man sitting at a desk. He stood up as I entered.

"Mr Farell? I'm Doctor Adam Fullerton. Welcome."

I shook his offered hand. "Thanks, you can call me.... Simon." I hesitated a moment, not sure how I wanted him to know me. I wasn't sure if he caught my hesitation or if I imagined it. "I'd ask how you knew who I was, but I guess I'm rather distinctive."

"That you are. You can call me Adam if you want. Please, come into my office." He opened the door behind him, leading into a larger office. It was panelled in wood with shelving on one wall, and a large window bordered by heavy curtains. There was a large wooden desk on one side, a pair of comfortable chairs that I had no hope of sitting in any more, and a more cliched chaise lounge in the other half of the room.

"Take a seat please, make yourself comfortable. I'd just like to talk for now, get to know you and set some expectations. Have you ever visited a therapist before?"

I sat on the end of the lounge without a back. He turned one of the chairs to face me and sat down as well, hands empty.

"No, I've never been to a therapist before," I confirmed.

"Okay then, clean slate then. For both of us since you're my first Changed. For today, I just want to talk, to get to know you and for you to get to know me. That will help us decide if we're a good fit. If we aren't, I can suggest some others that might help. If we are, we'll keep meeting and go deeper.

"The main goal is to help you. To help you sort out what happened to you, and to help ground- hmm, that may not be a good term for you. To help you adjust. As long as you feel like you need it, that we're doing good work, we can keep going.

I nodded in agreement to the plans. Adam sat back and looked me over. "Now Simon, normally I'd let you start where you want to start, and we'd go from there. But I think there's a phoenix sized griffon in the room that needs to be addressed. Would you prefer I address you as Simon, or Skyfire?"

I shifted a little on the lounge, sitting up a bit straighter, prouder. "So you recognized me. I guess I didn't really try to hide it."

"As I said, you're quite distinctive, even among other griffons. And you've been doing the opposite of hiding. You've practically set up that reporter's career for the next few years. But the question still stands. Are you Simon, or are you Skyfire?"

"I... I don't know." I looked at him, noting how he was keeping his position neutral, neither leaning forward to listen more intently, nor leaning back in anticipation of a long story.

I laughed nervously and deflected, "Well, mom's going to be happy. Over Thanksgiving, I promised her I'd bring up Skyfire as soon as I talked to you, and here we are."

He smiled encouragingly. "It seems like a good hook to start with, if you want to. If you would rather come at this from a different angle, we can shelve it for now."

"No, it's as good a topic as any to start with. And I guess to start, I should start further back."

I took a deep breath, my thoughts organizing. "As you can tell from my age maybe, I grew up with the Internet. I've been part of a lot of groups through the years, gaming groups, chat groups, role playing groups and so forth. And each of those groups I had... I have different identities for. So for all my life, I've been Simon. But I've also been Taroc, Taeolas, Mirage, and more that I've probably forgotten. Each identity compartmentalized, even when the groups bled.

"Hell, my first time down to Vegas was for a convention for a game I played at the time. So while Simon rented the hotel room, for that weekend, I was Taroc through and through.

"As I've grown older, many of those identities have gone away. Taroc's still strong because of PoGo... Pokemon Go. And a few others are still 'active'. And even Simon has a few variants. Who I am on my Vegas vacation is a lot different from who I am when I'm working here in Edmonton. And as an aside, Vegas-Simon is pissed his vacation was cancelled before it could even start, but that's probably a topic for another time."

Adam stayed silent but gave an encouraging nod. I had no doubt that he was busy taking mental notes on everything I said, but for now, he was letting me speak it out.

I paused and looked down. I indicated myself. "And then this happened. Literally everything changed, and the only thing I could really hold on to was Simon. And I hung onto it tight. Maybe too tight. I bristled inwardly any time someone called me a she, but look at me; if you didn't know better, it's a natural assumption.

"Quarantine broke, and I got out, I came home. And that's when I realized some had tagged me with the Skyfire identity. I hadn't intended to own it, but it stuck, it made sense to me, and it gave me something to hook all this on. Especially since I needed to also do Simon stuff at work and with my family and stuff. More compartments and it worked for me."

I fell silent for a moment, sorting my thoughts, figuring out where this path was leading. The path wasn't clear and it felt like it was going to uncomfortable places.

"I take it your compartments aren't working as well as you expected?" The therapist encouraged me.

"They worked great, at first. Skyfire handled the griffon things, and Simon handled the everyday things. Work, family, that's Simon. Helping other griffons, flying around, that's Skyfire. Sure she's encroached on Taroc's PoGo compartment, but that's not a big deal."

"The problem is, now she's encroaching more and more on the everyday things too. I go shopping, I'm Skyfire, even if Simon pays for it. Go out for dinner? It's Skyfire. I come here, and I honestly can't tell if this is a Skyfire thing or a Simon thing."

I remembered a question Brian asked me when we first met. "Way back when I first met Brian, that reporter you mentioned, he asked me if the Simon/Skyfire distinction was a Dead Name thing or a secret identity thing. At the time I said it was closer to a secret identity thing. But more and more it's feeling like a dead name thing. Simon is dying. He died when my building passes were changed, when my work ID card was changed. I just sent off to get a new passport, and when it comes back, Skyfire will be the picture, not Simon. I'm going to surrender my license next week and get an ID card with Skyfire's picture, and her 'other' sex and 'other' race. Hell, even at work, Simon's stronghold, The marketing team is using Skyfire as the face of our big launch in the new year, and Skyfire's basically leading her own team for some griffon focused applications we're brainstorming..

"Home is the same. I live at home so I should have the most control there. But biology is dominating. Those damn heats.... Home's no longer Simon's stronghold, it's Skyfire's domain now, whether we want it or not. All Simon has left is family, and they're all out east."

I paused a moment before saying something that had been gnawing at me for a long time. "Simon's disappearing and there's nothing I can do about it."

I couldn't look at him and focused on his feet. I didn't realize where that had come from, but as I let it out, it made sense.

"That is an interesting way to look at things. I don't know you well enough yet to suggest anything, but we'll come back to it I'm sure."

I took a deep breath, trying to settle myself, whoever I was. It was the first time I articulated that 'Simon' was disappearing, and it made me uncomfortable, uncertain about my future. "In any case, I guess you can call me by either name for now. I'm used to them both and maybe we can figure out who the hell I am by the end.."

"I'll try to use the appropriate one as we go, and maybe we'll figure it out in time. Now, this is your time, your head. Are there any other things you'd like to bring up? Any issues you'd like to share with a compassionate ear?"

I mentally reviewed the mountain of issues I'd built up. "I have a few. It might take some time though. And I'm not sure where to begin."

Adam smiled. "Well, we have all the time you need. Or at least the rest of the day, and any future sessions we schedule."

"I'm your only client today?" I asked, surprised.

"I did clear my afternoon schedule for you. Your case is very interesting; you're my first griffon. What happened to you is almost unprecedented, other than the Titans in the spring. If I can help even one of you sort through this mess, including the things you may not realize you're going through yet, then it's a job well done."

He smiled, a friendly smile. "And if for some reason we didn't work out, I'd get an early start on my weekend. Win Win either way."

I laughed, then sighed. "Well you're right. We're screwed up, screwed up in ways many of us don't really realize. This Change affected us at a fundamental level, it is the ultimate invasion, a violation of everything that makes us who we are, affecting us physically and mentally, changing who we are. Some of us, especially around here, are barely holding it together. Our support network is paper thin and we're straining."

"Well, we'll take it one griffon at a time, starting with you. And we'll take it a bit at a time. What do you want to start with?"

I talked for hours, unpacking a big chunk of the baggage I'd built up. Adam didn't offer much advice, but he listened, often making insightful comments that shed new light on some of the problems, making them seem less problematic. The sun was long gone and my gizzard was grumbling by the time I called it quits.

"Okay, yeah, this is probably a good stopping point," Adam said. "How are you feeling?"

"Starving, but that's not what you mean. Mentally, I'm exhausted but feeling alot better. Thanks for listening. There's still a lot to sort out; hell I'm still not sure who I am. But a few of the loose screws have been tightened."

"Well this is a marathon, and I don't mean just this session. When is a good time for your next session?"

I didn't hesitate. "Thursdays would be good... Thursday afternoons," I amended quickly. "Though next Thursday may not be so good. My cycles seem to be on Wednesdays, but I should recover enough by the afternoon."

He fetched a tablet from the desk and checked. "Okay, how about next Thursday at three? For two hours or as long as you want? We'll knock you back to an hour eventually but you've got such a load, I want to give you all the time you need."

I nodded and tapped it into my phone. "Yeah, I'll see you then.... Unless I see you before then."

"What do you mean?"

I smirked, "I mentioned our weekly support gatherings. Well, this Saturday, we're going to crash WestEd. Some exposure therapy for us and for the city."

"Well, I can't really condone amateur therapy, but it isn't a bad idea, if you and your crew can handle it."

"It's not just us," I said, my smirk growing to a smile. He seemed to be picking up my body language. "I extended some invitations outside the city. Some of the Calgary flock is coming up."

"Always good to mix things up, share experiences."

"Exactly, so I figured it's a good time to give everyone a truly new experience, well other than those of us who were in Fort Parker. I also invited the Calgary Herd up."

"Herd.... The Titans?" Adam looked honestly surprised.

I nodded, practically shaking in excitement. I'd been keeping this secret for so long, it was nice to get it out and see someone react to it. "You're only the third person in the city who knows, after me and Angela, our accountant. I reached out to Doctor McKay, and made arrangements to cover their transportation. She thinks five or six of them will come up."

Adam stood up and motioned to the door. "Well, that's certainly a tempting invitation. Thanks for the heads up; you might see me at the mall this weekend then."

Saturday, November 4

I woke early both excited and dreading the coming day. There were a lot of pieces in motion, and I was nervous about how my extra surprise would be taken. I did my usual morning cleaning and preening, and spent my time picking from among my clothes. I almost had enough to qualify as a wardrobe now, even though the shorts and tops were mostly the same save for different colours. Jacques was still my main supplier and he'd sent me some experimental looks that I liked, but mostly I stayed with the same styles I'd brought back from Fort Parker.

Since I wasn't planning on taking my big pack, I threaded a few belt pouches onto my belt; basically fanny packs without the waist strap but with loops so a regular belt could hold them in place. It gave me closable pouches to hold my spare batteries, combs, keys, wallet and other items without worrying about them falling out of my pockets.

The final touch, I made sure I had my poppy pin on my chest. I'd been wearing my poppy pin since soon after Thanksgiving, but this gathering made the pin extra important. We wanted to make a good impression with everyone, and respecting armed forces members who paid the ultimate price to protect our country was an important thing to do this time of year.

As I was leaving, just after nine, I got two alerts almost at the same time. The Calgary flock and the Calgary herd were both hitting the road. I had a sneaky suspicion that they were convoying together in whatever transportation methods they'd worked out. Rick confirmed there were five Titans coming, and we apparently had a couple dozen griffons making their way up as well. Assuming they make good time, they'd be showing up around noon.

A quick flight over the river later, I was circling over the mall. The mall itself didn't open until ten, but the building was already busy, mainly with workers getting ready for the day. I caught some of the hot air radiating off of the skylights over the waterpark and waited. Michelle and I were planning to go in before opening to talk with security and management, to make sure we were all on the same page.

I spotted a familiar media van before I found Michelle. The van was parked outside a mall entrance. Carl was unloading the gear onto a cart, while Brian chatted with a security guard, obviously catching up with a friend. I dropped down fast, letting out a quick screech to warn them before I landed. The guard still jumped in surprise, but the reporters didn't even flinch.

"Hey guys, long time no see," I greeted them, fist bumping Brian. "I hope you weren't hurting for lack of griffon stories."

Brian chuckled, "No, actually my producer was glad I could do some other stories for a change, even if they weren't as interesting as you guys."

"Well hopefully we can make an interesting one today. But not too interesting," I added quickly, nodding to the guard. "I'm Skyfire, I've been talking with your bosses about our planned hangout today," I said, introducing myself to the guard.

"Of course, we've been eager to meet you guys. Please excuse me, I'll let them know you're here."

The guard stepped to the side to radio in. Brian and I joined Carl in loading up the cart. Most of it was camera equipment, but there was a lot of miscellaneous supplies; poster boards, markers, nametags, and other things that seemed to follow our gatherings around.

"I'm surprised Michelle isn't here yet," I noted as we got the last box settled on the cart.

"She sent me a message saying she's running a bit late, but she should be here any moment now," Brian said, slamming the door shut and scanning the skies. I looked up as well, but the massive building was in the way of her normal route.

"They'll meet you inside, on the Central Stage," the guard confirmed, taking the lead towards the mall entrance. Carl and Brian exchanged quick words before Carl got in the van to park it in a proper spot. Brian pushed the cart towards the entrance, and I brought up the rear.

We'd almost reached the doors, when I heard the woosh of wings, and Michelle shouting "Incoming!" I turned and saw the blue and grey griffon coming in fast. I took a half step to the side, and caught her before she plowed into her cousin. We both let out loud oofs and I fell back under her.

"Sorry! Sorry!" she exclaimed. "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine. I meant to do that," I said. "How about we make a promise to never be late any more? It just doesn't work out for us. Especially not for me."

She laughed and just laid on top of me for a long moment while recovering. I realized this was the most contact I'd had with another griffon ever. I also realized that though I was getting ever closer to my second heat, I wasn't so far along to not be confused by how I was feeling about it.

Michelle seemed to have a similar realization about the same time. She pushed off me quickly and hopped back. I used a wing to push me over and stood up as well.

"I'll never get over how naturally you do that. Use your wings that way that is," Brian said with a shake of his head. "And I keep saying that way too often around you. You two okay?"

I nodded while brushing myself off, shaking a bit to settle my back feathers. Michelle shook a bit as well before speaking. "I'm good. Sorry about that. I just wanted to look nice, and decided to paint my talons, then I couldn't decide what to wear.... I only have three tops, it shouldn't have been that difficult."

"Well you're here now. Let's get in and get set up before the place opens," I said, holding the doors for her.

West Ed was like any other mall, just bigger.... Much bigger. Our hangout area for the day was going to be in the old area of the mall, in an atrium outside The Bay. It was basically one of the bigger open spaces they had that wasn't taken up by an NHL sized ice rink, or a tropical lagoon complete with a pirate ship and aquarium. We came in from the side, but quickly got to the empty stage outside the department store. A man in a suit and a uniformed guard were standing there, managing to mostly hide their reactions to us.

"Thank you for letting us come hang here," I said after the mall manager and the security chief introduced themselves.

"It is no problem. We're happy to help those with your condition, and hope you will return often in the future," John, the manager, said. He was trying to pick his words carefully, but was obviously unsure how best to handle us.

Michelle and I let it slide and looked around a bit. At our request, backless benches had been set up around the area, providing areas for griffons to sit if they wanted to, and providing areas for groups to gather and chat.

"Is this set up as you wanted? I admit, I'm still surprised you don't want more." John said, following our gaze.

"It's fine," Michelle said. "Just what we're after. We want to draw attention but not draw attention, if you get what I mean. To invite people to chat with us, hang out with us, or just go by us as if we're anyone else. So this is great."

Tino, the chief of security, tapped his clipboard and cleared his throat. "One more thing before we let you set up. I just wanted to go over the rules we agreed to, to make sure we're all agreeing. Make sure you share these rules with your friends when they show up."

He passed out copies of the rules to us, and started going over them.

"Number One. Dress code applies. You are exempted from the footwear rules for now, but you must be fully clothed."

"Tops and Bottoms. Got it," I affirmed, earning myself a look from the guard.

"Number Two. No flying unless in previously approved locations."

"Skyfire's one of the best flyers I know. So I'm sure she can pick some spots we can safely demonstrate without causing too much risk," Michelle said.

"I was going off memory, but I sent you some areas that might be good for a few flying demonstrations. We could take a walk after we're done here and confirm them," I said, nodding to John. "Mainly I want to make sure you didn't put too many banners up since the last time I was here. Those would be a challenge for most of us to dodge in the confined spaces."

Tino waited for John to nod, then continued. "Number Three.You may only use approved methods to go between levels. Stairs, escalators, elevators only basically. No jumping over railings or anything like that."

He gave us both a long look to make sure we got how serious he was. "It's for everyone's safety. We don't want kids seeing you jumping over the railings and deciding to copy you and then getting hurt."

We nodded in agreement, finding it a reasonable if a little annoying restriction.

"Number four, similar to three, no grabbing anything that isn't meant to be grabbed. No climbing on lamps, support poles, perching on banner bars or anything else that isn't designed for the general public to use."

I chuckled at the thought, but after looking around, I realized it was probably a good idea to ban that right away.

"Finally, GalaxyLand and World Waterpark have requested you stay away. They're still trying to figure out how you fit in with their insurance and normal policies, and until they figure it out, they'd prefer you just stay away."

I held my tongue, keeping inside a sarcastic retort that would probably be taken the wrong way. I simply nodded and scrawled my signature acknowledging I knew the rules.

I looked at the cart of gear and back to Michelle and the reporters. "Are you guys going to be okay sorting that out?" I asked.

"Oh yeah, we'll be fine. Besides, we're going to have help soon," she said, flicking a wing to point behind me. I looked back and recognized April, June, Tabitha and Cindy coming down, with a couple more human friends. The mall wasn't quite open yet, but a steady trickle of people were starting to come in, and many were looking towards us curiously.

I turned back to John, "Right, let's go figure out the fly zones. Maybe go up to Level 2 to get a better feel of things as we go."

We spent a good hour walking around the main areas of the mall. I did my best to assess how flyable the areas were, and ultimately decided much of the air space was too dangerous to fly in. There were too many banners and signs hanging from the ceilings, or there wouldn't be a safe landing spot if the crowds were too thick, or I just didn't feel comfortable flying in the tighter areas.

The ice rink was one area I decided we could fly in. There were some advertising banners hanging from the ceiling, but they were easy to avoid. Landing might be tricky, but permission was given to land on the ice if needed. To make sure my gut was right, I got permission to jump the railing, and took to the air over the ice surface. The flying conditions were perfect, with the banners providing just a bit of a challenge without being a hindrance. The cooler air over the ice felt nice too, like flying outside.

I did a few laps around the rink, then dropped down to land on the ice. I was anticipating a slippery surface and planning to gracefully slide forward to catch the sideboards.I discovered too late that the pads of my feet had a lot more ice-traction than I expected. Instead of sliding, my feet stuck on the ice and I started to pitch forward. I hop-skipped over the ice and just managed to catch the top of the boards before face planting. I heard some laughter and cheers from around the rink, and turned to wave to my audience while I slowed my heart.

"I take it that wasn't the plan?" John asked from the other side of the boards.

I shook my head and started taking careful steps towards a gate. "Not at all. First time on ice, real ice." I lifted a foot and showed the dark pads on my toes and the ball of my foot. "These have a lot more traction than I expected."

We continued our tour and I ultimately decided there was only one other area we could safely fly; a side corridor with the minigolf course had a skylight and no obstacles in the air. It was a bit narrow, but even our most novice fliers would be able to handle it fairly well. I strongly considered also opening up the Santa Maria airspace, but ultimately decided there was too much in the area for a flyer to fly in and to land among.

With their escort, I also got a chance to visit the forbidden zones, just to get a sense of the areas.

The waterpark I found too hot and humid. The water was alluring, and the airspace was clear, but the humidity was almost high enough to drink, and the heat was unbearable. I was beginning to pant hard and feel a bit faint after just a few minutes, and I was very happy to leave after a quick look over.

The amusement park wasn't too bad. The main challenge was the standard amusement park problem; lots of flashing lights and lots of noise. After a few minutes, I was keeping my inner eyelids closed, squinting with my full eyelids, and keeping my ears pressed down. Considering how much they used black lighting, it made the place a lot brighter than they probably intended, at least to griffons. As far as airspace went, watching the rides swing and twist and twirl through the air was great for the riders, but for a flyer it was a Bond-level torture room. I was more than happy to leave this as a no-griffon zone.

I bid farewell to my escorts and started heading back to the Central Stage. The mall was open now and slowly filling up. I paused on a second level railing, looking around and debating a snack run before returning to the flock.

"Simon! Hey Simon!"

I was so deep in Skyfire mode, I didn't even react to the shouts.

"Simon? Skyfire?" the caller shouted again, this time sounding confused.

My ears twitched towards the caller and I realized someone was calling for me. I turned and saw Rob and Juanita coming my way. I raised a wing and waved at them, and they relaxed.

"Sorry guys, my head was in the clouds," I said after greeting them, giving them both a quick hug. "What are you doing here?" That I was so unreactive to my name gave me a twinge of worry, but I brushed it aside. I had a lot on my mind, a lot of Skyfire stuff on my mind, so Simon was firmly in the backseat today.

"Just trying to beat the crowds and do some early Christmas shopping. Knock off the guys out east before we run into the risk of a shipping snarl," Juanita said.

"But what are you doing here? You hate West Ed. Especially on the weekend," Rob asked. "When you didn't react, I almost thought there was some other fiery griffon in town we didn't know about."

I laughed, "Yeah, I don't really want to be here. But I'm here for a greater purpose. Call it an exposure exercise, for me, for the other griffons, and for the city in general."

"Oh? What are you doing?" Juanita asked.

I motioned down the hall and started walking. "Probably best to be seen. Been down by the Bay yet?"

"Not yet..." Rob was confused but fell into step beside me, his wife beside him.

"Wow..." Juanita said as we reached the atrium. We were still on the second floor, looking down at the crowd. A couple dozen griffons were already here, mingling with people.

I surveyed the crowd, happy with what I was seeing. I was even surprised to see some of the less social griffons there. They were hanging by the edge of the crowd, just being there, but it was good to see them out. Simon was usually a wallflower, so I knew well what this sort of setting would be like for them.

"Wow," Juanita said again. "I didn't realize there were so many of you up here."

"This is just a fraction actually. We've got a few hundred at least in the city and region."

The crowd was beginning to notice me, looking up and pointing. I waved, and headed for the escalator. "Come on, there's someone I'd like you two to meet."

I lead them to the stage, weaving through the crowd, greeting random people along the way. In the back of my mind, I knew this was another change in me. Simon would have been with the wallflowers, skirting around the edge of the crowds, maybe curious about what was causing the crowds, but too polite and shy to push forward and discover. Skyfire on the other wing, had a lot more confidence and had no problem wading into the mix and greeting strangers along the way. Granted this entire shindig was Skyfire's idea in the first place, so she had that backing her up.

At the edge of the stage, I jumped up and caught Michelle's attention, waving her towards me.

"Hey Sky, welcome back. Everything go smoothly?" she asked.

"Smooth as silk. Only two flying areas, over the rink and over the minigolf. But I don't think we'd really need them anyways. Be thankful we're locked out of the pool and amusement parks. Those were not fun places to hang out."

"Good to know. Who are your friends?"

"Michelle, these are Rob and Juanitta Thompson, the friends who brought me back from Fort Parker. Guys, this is Michelle DeLong, leader of the local support group."

"So you're who I have to blame for throwing Sky into my flock. Good to meet you both. Did you know her well before?"

"Ten years or so I'd say? He wasn't my best man, but he was at our wedding," Rob said.

"Well that explains why he called you for help. Thank you for answering it."

"So as far as answering calls go, has he invited you to help set up the Griswold House yet?" Juanita asked, looking at me. "Many hands make light work."

"No, it hasn't come up yet," Michelle said, looking to me for an explanation.

"I hadn't thought of it yet to be honest. I lost track of time. After Remembrance Day is when I decorate my place for Christmas. Rob and Neets have helped me for years since I tend to put up a lot of lights. Not quite Griswold territory, but more than normal. If you and Brian want to come give a hand, it would be welcomed."

"That could be fun," Michelle said. "When were you thinking?"

"Next Sunday, if the weather's tolerable."

She smiled and winked at me, "It's a date then. It was good to meet you two. I'll see you again next week."

Rob laughed at my obvious discomfort. "Well, we should get back to our shopping. We might swing by later. And if not, we'll see you on Monday. Have fun today."

"Thanks guys. See yah."

I watched them leave for a moment, then turned away, doing my own mingling.

All too soon, my phone began to buzz. I excused myself from the group and turned away to take a look. It was a simple message.

We're here.

I gulped, suddenly having second thoughts about my idea, even though it was way too late now. I heard the radio of a security guard crackle and she turned away to listen easier. I couldn't make out what she was being told, but I had my suspicions. I checked the map and saw they were coming in from the south.

I looked around and spotted Brian on the other side of the stage. I lifted a wing and waved to catch his attention. He did a double take, and looked puzzled. I pointed towards the southern corridor and mimed holding a camera to give him a heads up.

Michelle seemed to pick up on something, whether it was the confused security guards, or my own actions. She zeroed right in on me. "What did you do, Simon?" she asked accusingly. It was possibly the first time she'd ever used my proper name.

"I don't know what you're talking about," I said, trying to sound innocent while keeping an eye on the southern corridor. Other than the Winners/Homesense anchor, there weren't that many popular stores down that arm so there wasn't much pedestrian traffic. A couple of the security guards that were hanging out around us started going that way. Brian was snapping for Carl's attention and the pair were moving around the edge, trying to get a better angle down the hall.

Some of the shoppers with a better view of the entrance reacted first, gasping and taking a step back. And then the eight foot tall, red skinned, black haired Titan trotted around the corner, smiling and waving. A somewhat familiar raven/snow leopard rode on her back, arms around her shoulders for balance. I tried to remember where I'd seen the griffon before and drew a blank. Four more Titans trotted behind her, and I remembered why a group of Titans was often called a Carnival; the visual clash of colours reminded me of my brief trip into GalaxyLand. Each Titan carried a griffon as well, and many more griffons walked in behind them.

All told, there were five Titans and about thirty griffons, doubling our numbers in one swoop. The Titans had blouses and shirts on, along with front kilts or skirts around their waists, though they were bare butted, the standard Titans were generally following now.

Brian and Carl were scrambling to make sure they got a good view of the arrival and the reaction. The other Edmonton griffons were as shocked as the humans. I could feel Michelle's eyes burning a hole in my back.

"Okay. I may have extended an invitation down to our friends in Calgary," I said weakly. "Angela knew and approved it," I added quickly, pulling our absent accountant under the bus with me.

"Skyfire...." she growled. Our vocal range didn't usually cover the feline growls, roars and purrs, but when we wanted to, we could do a scary imitation.

I grabbed her hand and pulled her to the edge of the stage where Rick and the Titans were trotting toward. The crowd parted for them, giving them a clear route. The stage gave us just enough height to meet them face to face.

"Hey Skyfire, good to finally meet you in person," Rick greeted me, holding out her hand. I shook it, my talons engulfed by her mitt. "I brought along a friend who says she knows you."

I stared at the riding griffon, and finally pulled up a name. "Mike was it? East Sides in the Hat right?"

"You did remember me!" the raven griffon exclaimed. "Thanks for the advice."

I offered a hand to help her climb down onto the stage. "No problem, glad it was helpful. I hope the trip home wasn't too bad."

She laughed, "The trip itself was horrible. All of us crammed into an Escape was bad enough even if I wasn't a griffon. But once I got back on campus, Prof McKay and some of the other Titans took us under wing and helped us out."

I gave the strange griffons another quick lookover and compared them to our own group. They did seem marginally better off than our flock. I suspect it was from having a larger number of them around; last I heard Calgary had about seven hundred local griffons, while we were still only around three hundred. Medicine Hat beat us all by having about fifteen hundred.

"Well you're looking good. Better than us to be honest."

"You're not doing too bad considering. And you guys have got a celebrity, the famous Skyfire," Mike said. She waved back to some of the Calgary griffons. "See? I told you I met her."

I laughed and waved, recognizing some of the main organizers of the Calgary flock.I'd never chatted with most of them before, but Michelle had many times before.

"Right, we'll chat in a bit, but it's been a long three hour drive. Most of us need to hit the loo and get some grub," Rick said. "You birds have fun."

A blue Titan with red dots stayed with us, while the other four trotted deeper into the mall, the crowd splitting for them. Some of the other griffons were heading for the bathrooms as well, or otherwise spreading out. We still formed quite the crowd outside The Bay; It made me feel I was back in Fort Parker.

The next half hour was chaotic, introductions flying around, and friendships meeting in the real world for the first time, or the first time in a long time. I promptly forgot most of the names, but it was good to see us liven up. Michelle even stopped giving me a death glare.

The Titans trotted back, loaded down with multiple bags from restaurants. Knowing what they needed, I knew that was a light meal for them. My own stomach was beginning to rumble, but I couldn't escape just yet. I flagged down one of my flock and sent them to get me some kebabs and a bottle of juice; something I could eat quickly and cleanly while socializing.

Despite our original intent, it was quickly becoming a circus. We spilled out into the corridors around the atrium, and regular folk were trying to figure out what was going on. I barely had time to tug a chunk of beef off a skewer before Brian was flagging me down.

"You guys just lit up the city, possibly the province," he said once he got close enough. "The other networks are rushing here, but since I'm already here, the studio wants to do a live update on what's going on, and then a longer story for the evening news."

"Wait, now?" I asked, snagging another chunk.

He nodded and motioned for Carl to get in position. "Let's get you and Michelle and grab a Titan or two. You're just background candy for this scene, I'll do all the talking.."

I gulped one more chunk down and put the rest back in the bag. I flagged down Michelle and checked where we were setting up. We snagged Rick and another Titan and set ourselves up behind Brian. He looked at us and switched Michelle and I around to 'balance the reds'.

"Okay, first is just a live update. You're just here for looks while I talk. It's a teaser to get people interested in what's going on. So just stand there, pretend you're talking, ignore the camera, ignore me, and let's get this done."

An hour later, I managed to grab a few minutes to myself. Brian was busy talking to everyone he could, and the other networks had descended upon us like a plague of locusts, trying to catch up to what Brian had already put out.

I looked around the area, and I was pleased. Dumping the Calgary changed into the mix was chaotic, even without the Titans, but everyone was spreading out and seemed to be having a good time.

I spotted Doctor Fullerton in the crowd, accompanied by a woman and a preteen boy. I hopped off the stage and started towards him. Halfway there, I realized that it might not be appropriate to approach him in public, but he'd already spotted me and was leading his wife and son towards me.

"Hello Skyfire, this is quite the party you're throwing here," he greeted me. "This is my wife Alice and my son, Kieth."

"Hi guys, glad you could make it. I wasn't sure if I should approach you or not," I said.

"It's fine, especially in your case considering what you are trying to do. Looks like it's a success."

I nodded, "Going a lot better than I hoped for. Too many of us to ignore so it forced the issue. Still, we've got a lot of wallflowers even now."

He motioned his wife to go one way and led me a bit further away. "Anyone in particular you're worried about? Friend to friend?"

"We all need help. Not sure if we need your kind of help, but it probably wouldn't hurt," I said. "I'm also worried about the ones who aren't here too. But one step at a time."

I indicated one griffon who was staying next to a store window, just watching the goings on but barely participating. "Sofia lost her job over quarantine, and her apartment soon after. She's been crashing on a friend's couch basically ever since. And there are many more like her.

"Joey there, she changed but the rest of her family was outside the zone. She hasn't been home since, despite coming back to the city.

I nodded to a pair on the stage. "Melody and Jason, they haven't seen their kids since the Change. They were coming back from a kid-free vacation while their parents took care of the kids. Got caught on the road and haven't seen their kids since. Their parents won't speak to them."

I sighed, "Those stories are repeated all among us. Especially for those of us who left the griffon lands. We tend to have more unchanged families out here, and people are just less aware of what we're going through. On top of all the rest of what we're dealing with."

"I'll reach out and see what went wrong. There should be help available, but the right connections may not have been made to link you to those who want to help."

"Thanks Adam. And thanks for coming out."

"I'm glad you set up this opportunity. Man, those Titans are big in person."

"Imagine meeting them a few days after you put on feathers and coming to terms with losing a head of height. Still, I'm grateful for their help. I'm sorry, I think CTV wants to talk to me next."

Adam nodded and smiled, "Well, you seem to be in your environment around here. I'll let you get to your interview, and do some mingling like you want us to. We'll talk on Thursday."

* * *

After six, we had a dinner break for most of us who'd been there all day. Groups of us booked the patio areas of most of the restaurants on BRBN Street to make sure we'd have room. The leader group filled up the entire patio of a pub between the eight griffons and two Titans. The four Edmonton griffons were basically fifth wheels as the Calgary group helped the restaurant workers set up the tables; they had clearly done this before.

The Titans took spots at either end of the table, standing sideways between the table and the barrier to the rest of the mall, Rick at one end, and a Titan named Twinkle at the other. Twinkle was black furred and skinned with tiny white dots reminiscent of a night sky. He said he was a pouch mother, about midway through that gestation period with a pouch that was visibly larger than those of the other Titans we'd seen.

Michelle and Tabitha took the spots between the Titans, their backs to the mall, while the rest of us took our seats along the other side of the table, sitting on benches the restaurant found. As long as we remembered to keep our wings tight, there was just enough room for the servers to reach the table.

Menus, water glasses and pitchers were set out. The glasses clinked as eight metal straws were dropped in, almost in unison. Twinkle chuckled and lifted his glass in a toast before we could sip. "Here's to a successful day of freaking the normals. I'd certainly say this went well."

"It did go better than I could've hoped. If my partner had kept me in the loop, I might have been better prepared," Michelle said, clinking glasses while glaring at me. Eagle glares were much more potent than human or Titan glares, mainly because inner eyelid blinking didn't disrupt them.

"I said I was sorry. And it did work out," I said, looking away.

"We really should try to do more of these; get you guys down to Calgary, and come up more often. Admittedly, it's a bit of a pain for all of us to travel long distances, but the impact we have is worth it," Rick said.

"Especially coming up here; remind the Premier that we're here and not going away," Susan said. She had yellow Oriole patterns with a cougar feline part, and was the leader of the Calgary group.

We fell silent for a moment as we perused the menus. I was starving, but knew better than to over-order as I may have in the past. Two waiters were kept busy taking the orders and collecting the menus. I watched shoppers pause and point and gossip, seeing all the griffons and the five Titans filling up the restaurant patios. A lot of people seemed extra fascinated watching griffons eat and drink.

"So, Skyfire picked a rocking name. Have the rest of you picked new names yet?" Twinkle asked once the waiters were gone.

"Twinkle," Susan warned tiredly. "He's been trying to get the flock to pick new names practically before the group formed," she clarified.

"It only makes sense. New bodies, you should shed your old baggage as much as you can. Especially the gender ties they have."

"To be clear, I'm not fully on the Skyfire train," I corrected him. "I'm just as much Simon, at least until I finish getting my head checked."

"A good decision. No need to make any rash decisions," Rick said, giving a quick glare to the other end of the table. "So, to obviously change topics, what's the plan for the rest of the evening?"

I shrugged my wings, "No real plans. We were going to see you guys off, wind things down here. Most of the locals have already headed home, so we'll probably be done soon after dinner."

"Ah right, I guess we didn't tell you," Susan said. She sipped her drink and smirked. "A bunch of us are staying the night up here. On our own dime. Since most of us haven't been out of Calgary since we got home, we decided to make a real trip of it."

"Yeah, Twinkle, Alan and I are staying up too," Rick said. "We've booked rooms at a nearby hotel. Not the one here; we're not made of money."

"Oh! Well, that changes things," I said. I lowered my voice, so only those of us with changed hearing could hear us. "Aren't you worried about the second heat? That's why a lot of our flock bailed early, or didn't show at all."

"We're worried of course. But we should be safe. Everyone who came up is either on the male curve, pregnant, or late like me. Going home tomorrow should give us enough time to get ready," Mike said.

We went quiet as the waiters arrived with drinks, sodas and beers. Appetizers were dropped off soon after that, and were quickly devoured. Most of us hadn't had a proper meal all day and we were ravenous.

"So what do you guys have in mind for this evening? As hosts, intentional or not," Michelle gave me another quick glare that I deflected by studying the bubbles in my pop. "We shouldn't leave you to your own devices."

"Well, some of us wanted to do a loop around the city and stretch our wings a bit," Mitch said. She was a Calgary griffon that was sticking to water. I saw how she sat next to the fourth Calgary griffon and finally put one and one together and got three.

"Harry and I can take you around if you want a local guide. We've been all around downtown and can take you to some of the hotspots that we've liked so far," Tabitha volunteered.

I leaned close to Mike and whispered, "Are they?"

Mike nodded and smiled, speaking equally quietly, "They are, both are with egg actually. It seems even though you don't climb the male curve as high when pregnant, you can still get it up if you really want to."

I wowed and glanced back at the pair, correcting my mental math. I was saved by the arrival of food. After the first few bites, Rick continued the conversation. "The rest of us are staying close to the mall. I think some are going to a movie. I've had my eye on the comedy club myself." She nodded to the box office across the hall from our restaurant. "There's a show at 9:30."

"I haven't been to a show in a long time. Could be fun. It'll be interesting to see if the comic can react to us," Michelle said. I nodded in agreement.

"We should probably swing by the hotel and actually check-in," Susan said. "Can you point us to the Castle Inn? We can get the Herd's keys too if you want."

Michelle chuckled, "Yeah, it's not too far away. A few blocks that way. It's hard to miss. If you're coming in from the sky, look for my top on the roof. I never did go back for it."

"On the roof?" Susan asked.

"Yeah, I took it off for Skyfire the first night we met."

Eyes turned to me then back to Michelle. "It wasn't that way!" I protested. "It was literally the first time we met in person, and her feathers were horrible. So I wanted to help her."

"Right. 'Preening'," Tabitha said, wing nudging Michelle. She tried to glare, but we were all cracking up.

By just after nine, we had finished all our miscellaneous tasks and reconvened outside the comedy club. The earlier show was letting out, so we got to see a lot of people in a good mood be startled by us. Three Titans, ten griffons and another bunch of human friends were waiting outside with the other people waiting to get into the club.

The club had us wait outside a bit longer while they set up, clearing some chairs and a few tables to make room for the Titans and for us. We ended up at the back of the club with plenty of room. We were quickly settled with drinks before the comic came out.

"Good evening ladies and gentlemen and whatever the rest of you are. Welcome to my show," the comedian said, smoothly acknowledging us. "I apparently need to have a chat with my agent. I didn't know I was putting on a show at the Edmonton Zoo tonight, but here we are."

We light heartedly booed him while the rest of the room laughed. He rolled through his routine, tossing a few good natured jabs our way when he could. It wasn't the funniest comic I'd ever seen, but he made us laugh which was all we were after.

After the show, we retreated to the bar-pub we'd gone to for dinner and ordered a late second dinner. We griffons were all getting hungry again and even the Titans were feeling peckish. We took our time, having no deadline but closing time.

"So, we've told our change stories, but what about you guys?" I asked the Titans. "What the hell were you guys doing in the bottom of Colorado at the end of Winter?"

"Dumb bad luck. Alan's my student, and I'm a geology prof. We were driving down to Albuquerque for a late season conference, and the blizzard trapped us in some little town in the north end of the zone. Didn't even have a hotel; we were just going to ride out the storm at a McDs when this happened."

"Yeah, my wife and I were in a similar bind. We were coming back from Phoenix when the blizzard snowed us in. We did get a hotel room, so we were set for the quarantine at least, but man what a mess," Twinkle said.

"Where is your wife?" Michelle asked.

"Back home, keeping an eye on some contractors doing some renos for us. We're literally raising the roof of our bungalow."

"In any case, a few weeks after we changed, they managed to get all us canucks together, and they worked on getting us home. The Calgary six eventually were stuffed in a couple of U-Hauls and driven up to the border. The others made their way up later," Alan said. "That was a LONG time in the back of a UHaul."

We kept chatting, even as a familiar sound started from deeper in the restaurant; Saturdays were karaoke nights. I eyed the three Titans and smirked. "Okay. Which of you three is going to show off your pipes?" I asked.

"What do you mean?" Alan squeaked. She was dark blue with silver vein patterns, like she was living granite. She had no fur, just silver hair, tail and feathering.

"I was down in Fort Parker, remember? I've met you guys. Any random Titan is a better singer than the best griffon. And better than whoever's squawking in there now."

"Now now, that's not true," Rick said. "I can't carry a tune in a bucket."

I ignored their protests and tapped on my phone. The bar had a newish system for registering singers, so you didn't actually have to go on stage; a waiter could bring the mic and a screen to your table to serenade from. "Pick a song quick before we pick one for you," I challenged.

Alan had her own phone out and was skimming the list. "Only if you follow," she said, pointing at me. "And we pick each other's songs."

"Two songs, from any of you three," I countered. "And I'll go between. It's your eardrums."

More phones came out and people started checking the song lists.

"Fine, two songs, but we pick your song. Mari-Mac," Alan challenged.

"Hell no! I can barely do M's on a good day. You expect me to spit those out after a day like today and at those speeds?"

"How about Born to be Wild?" Rick suggested.

I shuddered and shook my head, getting serious. "No, not that one. That one's become too personal." I saw everyone pause and look at me for more details. "It was the last song I heard before I changed. I don't think I can handle it right now."

"That's fair. Consider it scratched," Rick said, moving on quickly.

Our debate was drawing attention from inside and outside as people watched us curiously. As they realized what was being debated, expectations were climbing. Griffons and Titans huddled separately to debate song choices, some joke ideas tossed back and forth. Finally, the line up was registered and eventually a waiter brought a screen out and a few mics. Alan grabbed the first mic, while Rick grabbed a second for backup vocals on the song.

"You sure about this?" the waiter asked. He was acting as the host and MC.

"Not at all, but the birds made me do it," Alan said. She took a sip of water and hummed softly to herself. "Let's do it."

I leaned forward expectantly, a mix of excitement and dread filling me. Susan had suggested the song in passing and it felt like a good challenge for the Titans. I glanced around the other griffons and realized the Calgary ones had a different stance, like they knew what was coming.

"Next up, ladies and gentlemen and everyone else, we have a treat. Alan is next, with a song that needs no introduction."

The MC triggered the song and a familiar beat started up.

Alan tapped her hoof to the beat and watched the screen, mic ready. The mall seemed to fall silent, anticipating the lyrics.


Doom-boom-ba-beh Doo-boo-boom-ba-beh-beh

Pressure pushin' down on me Pressin' down on you, no man ask for Under pressure that brings a building down

Splits a family in two, puts people on streets

Alan hit the notes perfectly without missing a beat. I saw the Calgary griffons smiling and I groaned.

"Traitors!" I hissed at Mike. "I've been had, haven't I?"

She laughed, "You tossed them right into the briar patch where they wanted to be. Alan's had a music minor even before she changed."

I waved a clean napkin in surrender midway through the song. The Titans had turned off the mics and were filling the restaurant and the mall corridor just with their vocal strength.

As the song finished, there was silence across the mall. Then a roar of applause rippled through the restaurants. Alan grinned and handed the mic over to me. "You're up. We picked an easy one that might be appropriate for you."

"You're despicable," I growled. "Making me follow Bowie and Queen? It ain't fair."

"You're the one that picked the song," she pointed out.

The MC shook his head and looked towards me. I sighed and nodded, picking up the mic.

"Next up, we have Skyfire, doing Blue Rodeo's 'Til I Am Myself Again."

"I wish I was myself again," I mumbled. Like every Canadian my generation, I knew the group and the song. It wouldn't be that difficult to do with a beak, and with my more limited range, though the song choice hit a bit close to home for the changed. They'd gone easy on me.

The guitar chords started playing and the words lit up. I took a breath, waiting on my cue and started.

I want to know where my confidence went

One day it all disappeared And I'm lying in a hotel room miles away Voices next door in my ear

Where daytime's a drag Nighttime's worse Hope that I can get home soon But the half-finished bottles of inspiration

Lie like ghosts in my room

For their second song, I'd left it to the Titans to pick. I finished my song and took the polite applause, hoping it hadn't been too bad. The MC gave me an encouraging smile and handed the mic back to Alan.

"And next, Alan is back, once more with a song I'm sure we'll all recognize."

Alan took the mic and backed up a bit to get some more wiggle room. She smiled at us. "Thanks. Let's just say, I really feel this song since March," she said as the country chords started. "Feel free to sing along, everyone!" The griffons all groaned in unison, while the other Titans cracked up. Alan waved her hands, encouraging us to spread out a bit and dance along.

Let's go, girls!

Come on!

I'm going out tonight I'm feelin' alright Gonna let it all hang out Wanna make some noise Really raise my voice Yeah, I wanna scream and shout No inhibitions Make no conditions Get a little outta line I ain't gonna act politically correct

I only wanna have a good time

By the end of the song, it was a group song, griffons and Titans alike belting out Man, I feel like a woman through the chorus and with more than a little laughter. Cheers, laughter and applause echoed through the restaurant as the song ended and Alan bowed to the crowd. The MC took the screen and mics and headed in to find the next victims.

"That was dirty pool," I said as Alan drained a pitcher of water.

"It's the truth though," she said. "Fits you guys too, though I'm not sure you can get that low any more. You gave it a great try"

"It's a bit too lippy for us," Michelle admitted. "Too many Mm sounds."

"In any case, you weren't that bad, Sky," Alan said. "A bit more practice to nail down your range and you'd be fine."

"I'm fine being a code birdie. As far as pastimes go, singing is only slightly above bull riding in things I want to do."

"That reminds me, mark your calendars now, you're all invited down for the Stampede next year," Susan said.

"We'll be there. I haven't missed a Stampede since I was a kid, and I'm not intending to miss this one," Michelle said.

We chatted through to closing time, sharing Change stories and other adaptation quirks of our new bodies. The Titans got requests for a few more songs through the night, which they gladly did. Curiously, no one asked me for an encore.

Just after two, we left the mall. I found the cool air crisp and invigorating. Cars were already covered in a thick layer of frost, and flurries were drifting out of the cloudy skies. The Titans and humans immediately started shivering. The Titans had on saddlebags, from which they pulled out jackets and blankets.

"It isn't fair, you know. You can fly, you don't get cold, you can fit in most of the places we used to. Feels like we were the alpha and you're the released product," Alan noted, twisting around to add a blanket over her lower back. She'd done most of the singing through the night, and gotten 'tipped' in extra beers. So even with the Titan capacity, she was more than a little tipsy.

"Well, you guys didn't get those heats. Twice a month. Ugh," Mike noted. The Calgary griffons weren't quite as tipsy as Alan was, but wrangling them to the hotel was going to be fun. Thankfully it was only a few blocks away.

Michelle thumped Alan's saddle bag. "You guys also have a hell of a lot more carrying capacity than us. Sure we can go places, but if we get more than a bag or two of groceries, we're walking it. I'm going broke with all the delivery charges I'm paying."

I could feel the conversation veering towards drunken brawl territory and decided as the designated flyer to try and diffuse it. "Right, Michelle and I know where the inn is. If you can fly, follow us. If you're walking, Brian and Mitch can guide you there. We'll make sure you get into your rooms at least," I said, trying to move things along before Edmonton PD had to figure out how to fit horses into their drunk tanks. Mall security was already giving us a wary eye.

It was well after three by the time I got home. Between my exhaustion and not having my inflatables to guide me in, I nearly got lost for the first time in weeks. I was so exhausted and weary, I collapsed face first into bed with my clothes on and slept until noon.

Week 7

Sunday, November 5

I slid off the bed just after noon and yawned, pulling myself onto my paws. I literally peeled my top and shorts off, finding them a bit greasy, and with a funk even I could smell. I tossed them into the laundry basket and washed up a bit before heading down to preen and munch on breakfast.

The Calgary group were about to leave, so I couldn't hook up with them one last time. They were only three hours away by car, maybe five hours by wing. With Winter coming, we probably wouldn't be visiting often, but next year, once the snow melted, I suspected that seeing griffons winging back and forth between the cities would be a somewhat common sight. The Titans from what I understood could only hoof it about a hundred klicks a day on a good pace, so they probably wouldn't be travelling as often until a better transportation method could be cooked up..

I paused, a piece of toast half lifted, realizing where my thoughts were going. I was thinking about the future as a griffon, not just my future, but our future in general. I suspected it was a side effect of hanging with a large group of us yesterday, but it did make the days to come seem more tolerable; there were a lot of us dealing with this, carving our own piece of civilization out of the human fabric.

I puttered around the house a bit, doing some cleaning and letting my thoughts wander and letting my social batteries recharge. Looming in the back of my mind was my second female heat. The first of us were about to experience it. The grapevine was saying it wasn't as intense as the first one but we wouldn't really know until tomorrow.

By mid afternoon, I knew there was one task I couldn't put off much longer. I was out of lube and I'd regretted not going for the male peak. So I pulled on my shorts and took off for Intimate Pleasures.

There was a woman looking over the sexy lingerie when I showed up, and an employee I didn't know. They both looked at me as I walked in, and stared. I waved my wing and ignored the other customer. "Is Amy in today?"

"She's in the back. Do you want me to get her?" he asked.

"Nah, not right now. I'll just browse a bit first," I said, trying to act like it was a normal everyday thing. .

I grabbed a basket and tossed in a couple of tubes of lube, then started looking at the rest of the toys. I could feel two pairs of eyes on my back and smiled to myself. After the month I had, these were basically a health necessity and not just toys; embarrassment had left the building.

I looked over the female toys and decided what I had was fine for now. So I shifted mental gears and started looking over the male ones. Theoretically I felt I should know them better, but I'd never been one to use toys much before, so I was feeling a bit lost. Luckily, Amy came out to rescue me.

"Skyfire! Welcome back!" She greeted me. "I was a little worried I may have given you bad advice last time since you didn't come back."

"I'm sorry; I should have come back sooner. Your advice was perfect, just what I needed for that time. After though, I was too tired to think about anything, and then I got busy." I lowered my voice as she came closer so our conversation could be a bit more private. "I do wish I'd come over when I hit my male peak. I got cocky, and figured I could handle it given what I was before.... But when I really got cocky, it was worse than I expected. I could really have used some help."

"Well we can go over some options, and give you some things to try. Our suppliers are still trying to figure out what they want to make for griffons. They might have something by the new year, piggybacking on some Titan work they're doing. But in the meantime, the human stuff should work well enough."

She paused for a moment and I could see her mentally counting back the days. "We can pick some of these out for you, but if my math is right, I don't think you're all that interested in these right now."

"That's true, I couldn't get it up if I wanted to. But since I'm here anyway, I figured I might as well get them now."

"Right, then considering your physiology, here's what I'd suggest." She started scanning the shelves and all but swept half of them off. "First, these ones are trash, humans wreck them after a few uses, you'd tear through them like tissue. But these ones...."

We took our time going through the options. I kept the other customer in the corner of my eye. She was fascinated by our discussion to the point she wasn't even pretending to browse. For humans, it was an incongruous discussion; someone who looked as female as I was, talking about how well various tubes would hold up to a barbed cock. I could almost tell what she was thinking as her expression changed, from curiosity, to fear, to disgust and back. Most humans barely understood what hermaphrodites meant, let alone the fact that there were now a hundred thousand of them in Big Sky Country, and a further hundred thousand down in Colorado. The extra quirks of our biology tended to fly under the radar of almost everyone unless their kinks or their business sent them that way.

Soon enough, my basket was heavier with a fleshlight and a few heavy duty tubes she felt would hopefully hold up through a male cycle. She added some more samples of other things to try. The customer finally made a choice and checked out with the other clerk and left the store.

When it was just the three of us in the store, Amy introduced me to Luke, the other clerk. I set my basket down at the cash register so we could chat more.

"So was it really that bad?" Luke asked, jumping to the big question right away.

"Worse. Imagine a ten, and bump it up to a fourteen. You might be in the ballpark then. And do it all again two weeks later. Ugh." I sighed. "There was no pleasure in the heat, just a need. And when you satisfy that need, it just comes back. It was horrible to be slaved to your baser instincts like that.We're supposed to be better than that, as intelligent beings and all that."

"Yikes, well hopefully your next one is better, easier. And who knows? Maybe they'll come up with a heat pill for you."

"Fingers crossed on the first one. So far people are saying that may be the case, but I won't know till Wednesday.

"As for a heat pill, I'm not holding my breath on it. It's only in the past century we got the Pill, and the little blue pill. I doubt we'll have a safe pill for heats until I'm old and grey."

"Well, if you don't mind me changing subjects, I've got another thing I'm curious about. Everything was still fresh and in flux when we first met, but you've had a month now, hopefully things are starting to settle," Amy said.

"Settle, sure, you could call it that," I chuckled and nodded for her to continue.

"I was just wondering, is there anything in here that you still find attractive?"

I looked around and thought about it. "Honestly, not really. The toys work, but the mannequins look wrong, they curve the wrong way, don't have the right torso shape. The breasts twinge a little, but the male bulges just seem wrong. As for the pictures and videos and what not, they're nice and I can recognize they're beautiful by human standards, but they do nothing for me.

"And I suspect I'm the same for you. Here I am, bare breasted and I doubt it is stirring too much of a reaction with either of you."

Luke blushed and looked away. "Maybe a bit of a reaction. If we were willing I probably wouldn't say no. But you're exotic and curious and beautiful, but not really erotic."

"Exactly, you're nice, but there's no sexual tension. That may be why I find it so easy to talk to you about all this. If you had a griffon working here, I'd probably be a hell of a lot more self conscious about it and nowhere near this open."

"Well, we're certainly happy to help you, however you need it," Amy noted. "And I'm happy to see you are feeling more comfortable, compared to last time. Did you have a good time at the mall yesterday?"

"It was wonderful. Felt like I was back in FP again with all the griffons around and the Titans. And I was just part of the crowd, still turning heads, but not so much random filming and whispered chatter. I was just another person in the crowd. You have no idea how big a difference that makes."

We chatted more and I indicated I was ready to pay when they were. Seeing the total made me wince. "Why do I get the feeling griffons have become your new favorite customers?" I noted.

"A group that goes sex crazy every two weeks and will wear out some of the toys on a regular basis? I can't imagine why you'd think that," Amy laughed, bagging up my new toys.

I thanked them and headed home soon after.

Wednesday, November 8

Life was becoming normal. Monday I greenlit the company to use my image. I had to go through three lawyers before I found one who was comfortable in what we were after and who could clear the contract. Our marketing group was finally able to officially start planning my new acting career.

On Tuesday, I focused on work, trying to ignore the looming heat. When I wasn't hyper focused, I could feel it building, nipples tingling and hardening, a moistness in my loins, an urge to be hugged and touched and otherwise to be close to someone.

The GriffRacer team wanted to test a few more things, but I was in no condition to help them. I promised I'd find some griffons to be alpha testers by the end of the week, but my mind was too rattled to help them more. I somehow finished the day and scooted home with no stops.

I made sure to have a good dinner to prepare myself for the next day. The rest of the evening was spent channel surfing before retiring early. I stroked myself to a pleasant release before falling asleep.

I slept late, and woke, feeling the heat was taking hold. My nipples were hard, sensitive to the slightest touch, and my pussy was already moist. The itch was starting to build. I laid in my nest of sheets, trying to keep my breathing slow and steady, one hand already rubbing my breast. The other fumbled to my table for the toy. I went with the dildo instead of the vibrator, rubbing it over my labia before pushing in deeper. I closed my eyes, squeezing on it and moving it in and out of my tunnel. I soon shuddered and let out a moan, a wave of pleasure flooding over me, the itch cooling a bit. It almost felt bearable compared to the previous month.

I rested in the afterglow, trying to assess how I felt. I was still aroused, still horny as hell, but it felt a bit different, not quite as insane as the previous month. It was almost tolerable, but I knew it was still early. I pulled the toy clear and got up, deciding to risk going downstairs to the kitchen.

I sipped some juice and downed an apple. The heat was building again, the itch flaring up, but not as fast as last month. Whatever chemical and hormonal processes controlled it, my body seemed more ready to handle it.

I went back to my bed and sat there, feeling the urges building slowly, but steadily. I felt awake enough to try and resist, to bend the heat to my will. By the time I yielded, the heat was near the levels I'd felt last month when it so dominated me.

The morning passed much the same way, a moment of intense masturbation, a blissful moment as the itch cooled, and then the itch began to build again. During the lull moments I tried to do other things, to occupy my mind and distract from my body. Sometimes I tried to push the limits, to see how far the heat would build before it overwhelmed me. Other times I picked a level I felt more comfortable with, when I could get a more pleasurable release and relief.

During a lull that landed around noon, I nuked a frozen pasta meal and gulped it down. The food seemed to help take an edge off the fatigue that was starting to build.

The afternoon rolled on similar to the morning. During the quiet moments, I did a bit of work; not my best work but some work regardless. I may have been fooling myself, but I began to think the heat was weakening, that the lulls were going longer. As six approached, I even toyed with the idea of going out, doing raid hour.

As if to remind me who was in charge, the heat surged soon after five, the itch flaring harder than it had all day. I was knocked to my knees, scrambling for the toy.

It was after six before I felt able to move. The itch was sated, but my body was feeling worn out.I spent a long time laying against the bed, trying to gather up enough energy to do anything. Finally I got to my feet and stumbled to the bathroom, gulping down some water, mentally cursing whatever had forced me into this body. It had lulled me into a false sense of control, and then hit me when I wasn't ready.

I drew energy from the anger and used it to clean up a bit. I wasn't going to go anywhere now, but it was calming. I could feel the itch starting to stir again, but not as strongly; I was sure the peak was past for this month.

Thursday, November 9

I slept deeply and without dreams that night, and woke before my alarm. I rolled out of bed, feeling weary but not as exhausted as last time. I used the toilet, brushed my beak and took an extra long time getting my feathers and fur cleaned up and back into place. Feeling almost decent, I packed my lunch and took off for work.

Just before three, I flew across the downtown core to Doctor Fullerton's office. He invited me right in and I dropped onto his couch.

"You look worn out," he said, taking his own seat. "How was the heat?"

"As exhausting as I look. But not as bad as last time. I... I might be able to handle this going forward."

"We can talk about it more later, but I am glad to hear that. Your comments last week did leave me a bit concerned."

He sat back and crossed his legs. "Now, before we officially start, I have what I hope will be good news. After meeting you last week and especially after meeting more of you over the weekend, I've taken some actions of my own. I've reached out to my colleagues and escalated your issue up to the Minister of Health herself. We've realised that it isn't enough to just have help available through mental health services; many of you just don't know what's available or are too stubborn to realize you need it, a problem not limited to griffons.

"As such, we're going to explicitly reach out to all griffons, starting with the ones outside the zone, offering therapy sessions. Saskatchewan is going to do the same with their griffons. My own punch card is going to fill up rapidly; I'm actually going to have to start working on Fridays again, probably until next summer. But you guys need this."

"That's great news. Thank you for doing that. There will probably still be some who won't go, but I'll encourage those I can."

"You can lead a horse to water.... And that would probably be a better proverb for the Titans... But all we can do is reach out and make the offer, make sure they know we're here and hopefully they'll take it."

Adam leaned forward, "Now, you've had a busy week. What do you want to start talking about?"

* END *
Preceded by:
Paradigm Shift: Griffons Succeeded by:
A Fire in the Sky: Book 2