Sound. (men and women talking; horses pulling a heavy cart; someone walking on a wooden floor; a slow, regular thumping; a faint sizzling). Smell. (fresh laundry, roses). Light. (unflickering indoor light)
John blinked. He was lying on his stomach on a bed with a firm mattress. Someone had removed his glasses and all his clothes, and thrown a soft blanket over his back. Where am I? What hap -
John wailed as his stomach collapsed into itself. Oh, it tore, it burned! He tried to push himself up, but his arms felt like rubber, and he collapsed. "Help!" he cried. "Someone get me food! I'm dyin'! Help!" In a frenzy, he chewed at the pillow beneath his face, fighting to rip pieces from the unyielding fabric.
Thundering footsteps, the door crashed open, and somebody rushed to the side of the bed. "MAY MY BRAIN RETURN FROM ITS LONG WALK!" screamed a woman. "I FORGOT YOU'D BE HUNGRY! CAN YOUNO, YOU CAN'T!"
"Get me some food!" John begged, managing to turn his head to look at his rescuer. Without his glasses he saw only a blurry lump. "Please! I'm starving!"
The woman noddedbut she didn't run off! All she did was stand there and jerk!
Suddenly she lurched a few inches to the right, like a badly edited stop-frame movie. Something brown appeared around her stomach, and an unimaginably wonderful smell gave John the strength to twist around, sit up, and snatch the bowl of food the woman held. He crammed lumps of meat and bread in his mouth, barely chewed, and swallowed, almost choking; but that pain was nothing compared to the relief, the bliss of feeling every scrap tumble into the black hole of his stomach. From somewhere a pitcher materialized and he gulped from it greedily, water spilling past the corners of his mouth and running down his bare chest. And for a while nothing in the world mattered but bread and beef and water, the grease on his fingers and the crumbs on the bed, the strength of his teeth.
Only when he put the last morsel of bread into his mouth did he notice how sore his jaws were and how big the wooden bowl was. Swallowing the bread quickly, he hefted the bowl. It was surprisingly light given its size. "Christ, how much did I eat?" he asked the woman, who had stood patiently over him during his meal.
"A LOT," yelled the woman, Lyndess now that John had a chance to remember her voice and squint at her. She sounded tired, and although John was too nearsighted to be sure, she seemed disheveled. But why was she shouting at him? "I APOLOGIZE FOR FEEDING YOU IDRI DUNG-FOOD, BUT IT WAS THE ONLY FOOD I COULD GET QUICKLY. I SHOULD HAVE REMEMBERED YOU'D BE HUNGRY AND PREPARED SOMETHING BETTER. ARE YOU SATED... TELL ME YOUR NAME AGAIN?"
"John. Yeah." He grinned and rubbed his belly appreciativelyamazing how much stronger he felt nowthen started to laugh. "Thank you, thank you, thank you! You saved me life!" He leaned forward and hugged her (she was surprised by this move and didn't hug back), but then his arms abruptly came off her.
Why should Lyndess have remembered hed be hungry when he woke up?
Why had he been so hungry?
Now he remembered reading, the man who'd approached, the bag that burst, getting sleepythe name Remlar. "What happened?" he demanded.
Lyndess hesitated a moment before answering. "I FOUND YOU ON GRYNUN'S BED WHEN I WENT IN SAR'S ROOM TO DELIVER LUST DUST. DO YOU KNOW WHO PUT YOU THERE?"
"R - Remlar?" The unfamiliar name didn't roll easily off his tongue, especially since he had begun to shake. Something terribly wrong was moving into his conscious mind, something dreadful, unthinkable, impossible that hadnt registered while he was eating
something soft on his back, the blanket had stuck to it while
hanging from his back, two things
tugging at his back
soft under his thighs, tickling his calves
he was sitting on them
he felt them
they felt him
they were part of him
He was mistaken. Delirious. Dreaming. With an uneven laugh he reached back with a trembling hand, touched -
"Aaaaaah!" He rocketed out of bed and stumbled across the room, trying to run away from the two things that hung from his shoulder blades. "What the fuck's goin' on? What happened to me?" Turning, he grabbed Lyndess by the front of her silky shirt, ripping it half off her and exposing her bare breasts. "Where's me bloody glasses? Where the hell's a fuckin' mirror? What, what, what h-happened to me?"
Lyndess was no more impressed by his hysterics than she had been by Terdan's. She glanced down at her split shirt and hissed in annoyance, then looked John square in the eyes and yelled coolly, "RELEASE ME AND I'LL GET THEM."
John let go and hopped away, whimpering as something soft bounced against his legs and back. His heart pounded like a pile driver, filling his ears. An eternity later, Lyndess pressed the glasses in his hand, and as he crammed them on, fumbling to get them straight, the woman took a yellow lump from a pouch on her belt and twiddled her fingers. A sparkling mist appeared in front of John and coalesced into a flat reflective surface. Suddenly he was looking at himself
He stared for a few seconds, said "Oh," and fainted.
He awoke on the floor in Lyndess's shadow as she bent over him. "Go away!" he cried, shoving her in the chest. With a cry, she staggered back and fell on the bed. He scrambled up and dashed to the mirror again.
The things on his back were white fringed with blue, even folded they brushed the back of his calves and protruded over his shoulders, was he crazy or did his chest look larger, his arms and legs more muscular, he reached back to touch the right wing, his right wing, pushed a finger between his feathers, his stiff quills protested like hair rubbed the wrong way, he touched skin, his skin
he dropped to his knees and tilted his head back and began to scream. The whole world faded away as he screamed and screamed.
John stopped screaming. His face relaxed. He looked around him in wonderment, like a child, then rubbed his throat. "Why does me throat hurt?" He coughed, then stood up. "I wanna drink," he told the woman, who sat on the edge of the bed, pointing at him and breathing hard.
Lyndess lowered her hand. "I HAVEN'T CAST SO MANY SPELLS IN SUCH A SMALL SPACE OF TIME IN YEARS,"she bellowed. "BUT I HAD TO CALM YOU. YOUR NOISE MIGHT HAVE BROUGHT IDRIS." Her brown skin glistened with sweat; her short black bangs had plastered themselves against her forehead. She started to get up, but winced, and tenderly touched her breasts where John had mashed them. From her beltpouch she took a small corked blue vial. She popped the cork with her thumb and drank the blue liquid in a single gulp. Then she stood up, apparently hurting no longer.
"I wanna drink too," John insisted. He picked up the pitcher that he'd drunk from before and tilted it to his mouth, but it was empty. Then his reflection caught his eye, and he pulled a wing out to look at it in the mist-mirror. He broke into a big, stupid grin. "Eh, these're fab! Wait'll everyone sees 'em!"
"Gelded calming spell. I hate its brain-numbing effect," growled the woman. She pulled off her ripped shirt and looked at it sadly before tossing it away and putting on another that she took from a chest on the floor. Then she stuck her hands through the mirror and grabbed John's arms, yanked him through to face her. "YOU MUST NOT SHOW YOUR WINGS TO KETAFANS, JOHN," she said loudly and carefully into his slack face. "NO MATTER THAT YOU WERENT RESPONSIBLE FOR THIS TRANSFORMATION, OR THAT THEY THINK YOURE FROM BARAVADA; THEY WOULD KILL YOU FOR BEING A MONSTER."
John couldn't concentrate on the woman's words. "I want some water," he demanded pettishly. An' stop shoutin' at me.
Lyndess's grip on his shoulders tightened. "OH, FOR THE WISDOM OF THE MOON GODS! IS STUPIDITY TRULY BETTER THAN MIND-KILLING FEAR? YOU MUST WAIT FOR YOUR DRINK! AND I'M NOT SHOUTING!"
"Yes you are. Oh, all right. I'm gonna go show the lads me new wings, then."
He tried to pull away from her, but she clung desperately. "NO!"
His face fell. "Why not?"
"I TOLD YOU!" She marched him over to the bed and pushed him down to sit, then let go, watching him warily. He glared back at her, his fingers digging into the curve of the mattress between his legs, but he didn't budge, so she turned away and held her head, chanting "Sar wears a spell, wears a spell, wears a spell...." After a few minutes she had herself under control and turned back, to find John standing. He was trying to spread his wings, and before she could say anything,
"Look, Lyn!" He proudly filled the room with wings. From tip to tip he had a wingspan of about sixteen feet. "Ain't this gear?"
The woman's tight face underwent an almost magical transformation, but John was in no position to understand what it became. She gazed at him for a few moments, then slowly sat on the bed."IF BY GEAH YOU MEAN SHARP," SHE SAID, "THEN YES, YOU HAVE ACTED GEAH."
John waggled his wings a bit and giggled as the small breeze they created fluffed the woman's hair. "How'd I grow 'em, then?"
"METAMORPH POWD - "Lyndess stopped, grimaced, and continued: "I SUSPECT REMLAR USED METAMORPH POWDER. THE HIDDENWIZARDS ARE JUST CAPABLE OF BIRTHING MAGIC THAT POWERFUL. I'M SURPRISED IT BURNED SOSO GEAH," she added, sounding oddly happy."MOST SARSALL OTHER SARSBECOME HIDEOUSLY DEFORMED."
John didn't understand half of the words she used. "Oh. Why'd he give 'em to me?"
The woman gave him a sidelong glance. "I DON'T KNOW. PERHAPS SAR NEEDED SOMEONE TO TEST A NEW BATCH OF METAMORPH POWDER ON. I'VE HEARD THAT REMLAR IS SECRETLY A HIDDENWIZARD AND EXPERIMENTS ON HUMANS, BUT I NEVER BELIEVED IT UNTIL NOW. CERTAINLY SAR NEVER SHARED KNOWLEDGE WITH ME."
"Oh." He posed sideways before the mirror like a bodybuilder, making fists and watching the muscles bulge in his arms and chest. His legs were like that too, all hard and sinuous. "Gear! I'm gonna show the lads." He started for the bedroom door.
"NO!" the woman snapped, gesturing at the door. (In the distance, did a flute trill?) When John tried to turn the knob, it wouldn't move. He turned a hurt face on Lyndess. "Why can't I go out?"
She heaved a deep sigh. "YOU'D BE KILLED."
"Oh." Sluggishly, a thought occurred to him: "But the other lads'll wonder where I am."
"THEY WILL NOT. WHEN I GOT FOOD FOR YOU, I TOLD GRYNUN AND THE BARD WITH SAR THAT YOU WOULD SEX WITH ME THIS NIGHT. GRYNUN OWES ME A CASTLE VIRGINAS IF I WOULD WANT TO SEX WITH A KETAFANSO SAR COULD NOT OBJECT."
The room was quiet for a while, except for the noises John made furling and unfurling his wings. Oh, and their breathing and their heartbeatsLyndess's was going quite fastand that funny sizzling noise John had noticed when he woke up.
Suddenly Lyndess said "YOU WILL BE ABLE TO GO OUT AFTER THE CALMING SPELL DIES, BECAUSE I THINK I CAN MAKE AN ILLUSION-CLOAK THAT WILL MASK YOUR WINGS. ILLUSION ISNT MY SPECIALTY, BUT WITH LITTLE ELSE TO DO IN THIS GODS-ABANDONED PILE OF FESTERING ROT, IVE BECOME MORE ADEPT AT OTHER BRANCHES OF MAGIC."
"But I want people to see 'em," John protested.
"WHEN THE CALMING SPELL DIES, YOU WON'T. BUT I WOULD HAVE TER - REMLAR BELIEVE THE POWDER FAILED, OR DID LITTLE, NO SURPRISE WITH HIDDENWIZARD MAGIC. YOU WOKE UP CONFUSED IN GRYNUN'S ROOM AND WANDERED AWAY, NOT REMEMBERING ANYTHING THAT HAPPENED TO YOU. WE MET AND SEXED, AND I GAVE YOU THE CLOAK BECAUSE YOU ARE MY FRIEND."
She was using too many big wordsJohn didn't even try to comprehend them. And still she was yelling at him."Oh."
"YOU ARE MY FRIEND, JOHN? AND I AM YOURS?" Her pulse quickened; she flashed him a hopeful smile.
That much he understood. "Sure."
"SHARP!" Even dulled as John was, the force of her exclamation startled him. Cheerfully, Lyndess bounced off the bed. "I DON'T TRUST YOU TO STAY HERE, SO I'M GOING TO LEAVE THE LOCK SPELL ON THE DOOR. BOTH THAT AND THE CALMING SPELL SHOULD BURN LONG ENOUGH FOR ME TO FINISH THE CLOAK. AFTER THAT, NEITHER WILL BE NECESSARY."
The woman stroked John's chest and wings with sweaty hands, working her fingers between the feathers and squeezing his enlarged pectorals. "Continue to move your wings, she said in a normal tone of voice. Well learn how functional they are tomorrow.
"Right," John said, enjoying her gentle touch. "What's that sizzling noise? Are you makin' bacon? Can I have some?"
"SIZZLING NOISE?" Lyndess listened. "I DON'T HEAR ANYTHING."
It's been goin on since I've been here. The way you've been yellin' at me, I'm not surprised you don't hear it."
"THERE IS NO SUCH NOISE, AND I HAVE NOT BEEN YELLING! I SUSPECT THE METAMORPH POWDER HAS AFFECTED YOUR EARS." With a sigh, Lyndess pulled away from John, stepped back and looked at him with a mixture of hope and hunger. "I MUST MAKE YOUR CLOAK NOW. THERE'S A CHAMBER POT UNDER THE BED."
She shudderedJohn faintly heard the flute trill againand vanished with a POP! Almost simultaneously, an answering POP! sounded several rooms away, and the wooden floor creaked. "By the Moons, sar can use them!" Lyndess exulted. Thud, thud, thudshe was hopping up and down. "My exile may not last another fiveday! If I'd known the powder could produce something like that, I'd have used it on myself!"
The hopping stopped. "That was no random shaping. Could Terdan have affected the powder? No, sar barely casts finger spells with competence, and sar would have created uglier changes anyway. Perhaps Ba'nare has relented and somehow reached past the curse to provide me with a kes'tatan. No matter, no matter! Tomorrow I shall learn how much control sar has. "
John lost interest and quit listening to her. He tried the bedroom door again, but it still wouldn't budge, so he went back to the mirror. But as he was admiring the blue tips of his feathers, the mirror grew misty and shivered into nothingness. "Ah, shit," he said mildly, and worked at manipulating his wings so he could look at them without a mirror. Soon he could move the wings back and forth, work one at a time, and fold them on his back. But after that there was nothing to do. He tried the door again, in vain; he rummaged through a few of the chests on the floor, but found only clothing and shoes.
Finally he lay on his side on the bed with his wings jutting out, cozily thinking of nothing, just listening to the sizzling noise or Lyndess and her activities. She had quit talking to herself, but now she seemed to be doing a slow tap dance while sparklers went off, and John giggled at the picture. Once someone knocked on the front door, but Lyndess didn't answer, and the person left muttering about traitorous wizards.
Whoops, that was a hunger pang! I thought I ate enough. He couldn't remember. He got up and tried the door again, pounded on it and called to Lyndess, but she didn't come. Dejected, he plumped back down on the bed
Oh God, what's happened to me?
and blinked from the force of the unexpected emotion. "Whoa!" he said aloud. "Why'd I do that?" He started to
I'm not human any more! I'm some kind of freak!
John's eyes were awash with tears as the wave receded. Stop it, brain! he commanded, slapping his forehead.
Footsteps; the door opened and Lyndess, drawn and tired, came in carrying a long black cloak decorated with silver curlicues. "IT'S FINISHED," she panted loudly, dropping the cloak on John's knees and stretching out on the bed next to him. "WEAR IT."
John got up obediently and
My body's gone, it's gone, it's gone! John fell to the floor and curled into a fetal position. Take it away, make me come back!
He looked up in confusion. "Why did I do that?" he asked plaintively as he got to his feet, scooping up the cloak from where it had fallen.
"Arh," Lyndess growled, raising her head where she lay. At least she was weary enough now to speak in a normal tone of voice. "The calming spell's dying. Don the cloak while you're still stupid, or I'll never get it on you." Her hand flicked; the mirror reformed. "Look quickly; I could only put ember strength into the mirror's renewal."
John threw the cloak over his protruding wings, watched the mirror in delight as they melted while the cloak apparently settled on his shoulders. His chest shrank, and even his arms and legs smoothed into their old selves. He took off the cloak, and presto! His wings sprang into existence, his body bulged.
Lyndess smiled in tired relief. "Sharp. You now can leave, but always wear it."
"Sure," John answered carelessly, putting the cloak back on and twirling to make it billow around his body. He
and then the world cracked, shattered
and John right along with it.