It’s Tuesday and the ongoing adventures of the Winged Riders continues with Part Ten!
If you’re new to the story, head to Part One and start from the beginning!
Last time on The Wings Take Shape, the Skinchanger Jon struggled with the form known as Stalker, a cougar. When taking the form to protect his squad from a night raid, he lost control and Stalker killed their Scout, Thomas Irons. He managed to control Stalker long enough to flee, leaving the Winged Riders to be captured.
Captain Renee Mollen and her Winged Riders escaped and fled to Sadie Sawyer Paige, looking for any advantage they could find, and her Smokeshifting ability was a big one. She found Sadie and learned that Jon may be lost to Stalker.
Meanwhile, Jon fought the will of Stalker, sometimes losing control of his body and his mind, sometimes gaining it back and forcing her will to his. He fought her when she suggested he kill innocent children just to feed, and fled back into the forest, intent on finding Renee and the others so he could shed his form and ask forgiveness.
On to Part Ten!
The Wings Take Shape
Part Ten – Conflicting Thoughts
by Rick Cook Jr.
Stalker, Jon thought. He was in the Red Forest, creeping along, following the trail of Renee and the Winged Riders. His companion was silent.
Stalker, he prodded again. I know you can hear me talking.
Stalker bristled. You choose interesting words for what we do.
He snarled at a pack of wolves and they backed away from their hunt.
We can’t keep fighting for control like this.
We are agreed, then. Give me my body back and enjoy the ride, Stalker offered. She didn’t try to wrest control from him, though. Perhaps it was easier to resist each time.
Jon thought, I don’t understand how this is possible. You’re a Totem. You’re not a real creature.
She shot back, You don’t understand. How could you, you’ve only been alive a handful of seasons.
Jon’s eyes narrowed in frustration at Stalker. The scents of Renee and the others were growing stronger. He thought they might catch up in another hour or so. He could be free of Stalker then.
Why would you wish to be free of me? Stalker asked. There was desperation in the thought, scratching against his mind, scrabbling for purchase. I’m a powerful ally.
You’re a parasite.
That is rude, Jonathan Sawyer.
Jon halted in his movements. How do you know my name?
We are not separate, Stalker answered. Your memories are in me. Your dreams are my dreams.
That was an unsettling thought. Stay out of my head, he said, rebuffing her advances.
You will give me control again, Skinchanger.
Whereas Sadie had said the cadshee spoke the term with vitriol and humor, Stalker said it with sadness, not for her, but for him it seemed.
He asked, Why do you pity me?
Why do you not pity yourself? You are a pale imitation of an abomination. Your kind should never have been. It is vile and wrong.
I don’t understand.
Of course you don’t. You are a boy fighting a war you can’t comprehend.
We’re fighting invaders. What is there to get?
Stalker hissed in his mind. Not that war. Humans and their petty squabbles do not matter to me.
Then what war?
The Totems. If you were creations of the… Stalker hesitated, sifting through his memories, like raking claws through sand. Your people were created by the cadshee. We created him. You are like a grandson of me.
He had so many questions. But his thoughts were cut short when he heard Renee whispering in the darkness.
“Jon? Jon, if you’re out there, it’s okay to come back. Come home to us. Jon?” It warmed his heart the way she sounded calling for him. Not angry, but worried. Not afraid. He didn’t deserve it. Not after what he’d done.
There they are, he thought. I can change back. Will you let me go without a fight, Stalker?
Stalker huffed. Will you promise to come back? It gets so lonely. And his body vibrated with a soft purr, like a housecat. In the short time Jon had been struggling with her, he hadn’t come to feel like he could trust Stalker, so much as perhaps she was a tool he could use. A font of information. Sadie would want to know it all.
Stalker pressed on his mind. Well, Jonathan Sawyer?
Of course. I think we have much to learn from each other.
We have another problem to deal with first, Stalker mused. He smelled it, too. What were the odds?
A cougar pack surrounded the Winged Riders in their forest encampment. They stalked close, and Stalker half-heartedly urged him to join her kin.
It would be fun, she whispered. And so easy.
Not happening. He waited for the cougars to advance, showing themselves to the circle of soldiers.
And he roared with all the strength of his cougar throat. The common cougars laid ears back and fled into the forest. Jon strode forward, heart soaring when Renee ran to him.
You’ll let me out again? Stalker asked, pleased with the way he handled the cougars.
When we join up with Sadie. She’ll want to speak with you.
How will a human speak- Stalker’s thoughts abruptly altered as she raked his mind for information about Sadie.
ABOMINATION, she roared in his mind. The deceiver! We will tear out its throat, drinks its lifeblood. Regain what it stole from us!
Jon panicked at the sudden reversion of her calm demeanor and instantly tried to Change to human.
Stalker fought him. Claws scraped his consciousness, and the roaring pain of becoming human was as nothing compared to the grip she held over him. Fur fell away, human skin took its place, and then it all reverted. The cougar’s throat wailed and turned to Jon’s scream as he pushed harder, trying to take the form that was his by right.
But she would not let him go. His energy sapped away as the Change happened and reverted over and over again. He was close once.
“Help me!” he shouted, reaching a clawed hand out to Renee, who had backed away in horror. Stalker renewed her fight and he couldn’t resist any more. He gave in, and became the cougar in full.
Now we will deal with the abomination.
She fled into the night, leaving the Winged Riders to their fates. Jon was too tired to do more than whimper in her mind, and she let him.
It’ll be okay, child, she soothed. Soon everything will be as it should be.
Soon the abomination would be dealt with, its offspring sliced to ribbons.
Is there a battle coming up? Can Jon come back from Stalker’s rage? Find out next week!