A fight is a-brewing today on the continuation of The Wings Take Shape, Part Twelve!
Previously on Wings, Jonathan tried to skinchange back into his human form, but Stalker, the cougar, refused to let him change once she found out that his Aunt Sadie was the abomination that had betrayed her and the other Totems so long ago, vowing to end the abomination’s life once and for all.
Meanwhile, Renee and Marie argued with Sadie, Jon’s ant, about what she could possibly do to help the war effort. They came to no solid conclusions except that Sadie was hesitant to even try for the sake of her Smokeshifting children. When at last Marie felt she was getting through to the woman, Sadie sensed Stalker’s presence drawing close, and felt that a conflict was coming.
Read on for more…
The Wings Take Shape
Part Twelve – Totem Wrath
by Rick Cook Jr.
Stalker approached and she wasn’t alone. She had gathered to her every cougar in the Red Forest she could find, and followed the trail of Jon’s mate until she found the abomination’s next.
Except it wasn’t the creature. Not… entirely.
Something was different. He smelled different. And there were children.
Jon had tried explaining it inside their shared mind, but she refused to listen until now.
What has happened to the abomination, Jonathan?
You’re ready to listen to me, now?
Something is off. He is not the same as I remember. The stink of madness and fury is gone.
I don’t know about the cadshee, but Sadie isn’t anything like him. She might have somehow inherited his Smokeshifting, but it’s not him anymore.
Within her is the key to freeing me. To freeing all of us. She must be destroyed.
You can’t! Jon cried, so loud in their mind that she hesitated. The surrounding cougars jumped back from Stalker until she righted herself.
Your connection with her and her demonic brood is admirable, Jonathan, but she possesses the shackles by which he enslaved me and the others.
I’ll fight against you the whole time if you try it. She’s the only family I have left.
Please, cub, I do not fear your intrusion. You are a kitten batting with little paws against his mother. I’ve born it with amusement until now. You cannot stop this from happening.
Sadie can kill you. You and every cat you brought here today. The only red you’ll see is ours.
Maybe so, Jonathan. It was my mistake that put me in this position. I must correct it if I can.
And if you can’t?
She growled. Then I thank you for the freedom, however brief, you have granted me.
She stifled his protestations and snarled. The horses nearby snapped their leads and fled into the forest. Stalker suppressed her lesser kin’s urgent need to chase down prey.
She snarled and roared and Sadie came forth. Humans bolted down into the tree after losing all the horses. The one Jonathan called Renee, and her twin sister, were both up here, arguing.
Stalker and her dozens of cougars strode out of the forest.
Sadie said to the other women, “There’s nothing you can do here. This is old business and you’ll just get hurt.”
Renee grabbed at Sadie’s arm and fell through it as Sadie shifted to smoke and pulled away. Renee said, “That is my Private, Sadie. You’re going to kill my friend!”
“She loves him!” the twin said, and Renee slapped her. The horrified looks on both their faces said neither had ever done the like before. Jonathan surged forward into Stalker’s mind at that, pressed his will against hers and was fought back.
Renee said, “I’m so sorry, Marie.”
Sadie reformed into the woman. “Is this true, Renee?”
Renee turned from her sister, who was fuming hotly at being struck. She nodded, fighting back tears.
“Then I am sorry for what I will have to do to defend myself. To defend my children.”
She shifted from the woman into the dragon Scalesoar, bellowing flames all around the forest and into the sky. Trees caught fire and cougars danced in the flames, crying their pain as they fled. Even Stalker’s will couldn’t hold them against this.
So it was Stalker against the abomination.
And Stalker was surprised to realize she could communicate with her.
They stalked around each other while Marie and Renee watched. Other eyes from the base of the tree had gathered, too. Jonathan knew them all.
What do you want? Sadie prodded.
Stalker growled inside her head. I want to fix the mistakes of the past. I want to free us of this curse. I want you to perish knowing it was your creator who destroyed you.
You are not strong enough, Stalker. And you are the strongest of the Totems that are left.
Jonathan says you are not the abomination, but you have his memories. You may look like Sadie but you are still him.
I’m not, Sadie countered. I have been communing with the nature of my new form, gaining glimpses of his troubled past. I am terrified for the lives of my children. You would take their mother from them, and I cannot allow that. I’m truly sorry for what the cadshee did to you, how he betrayed you and Shadow-Dancer and all the rest. If I could fix you, I would.
Enough! Stalker roared. She leapt at the much larger dragon and fell through smoke and oil. Sadie became a snake the size of a small redwood, curling around Stalker and squeezing tight, crunching bones in their sockets so that Stalker felt her muscles must pop from her skin. She howled and bit into the snake, drawing black, ichorous blood that tasted of sweet vengeance.
The snake hissed and uncoiled from around Stalker, forming a vaporous fume around the cat that threatened to choke the life from her lungs.
Stalker swiped and danced away from the black mist, but Sadie just kept at her. The claw swipes tore through the mist, dripping ribbons of the black oil onto the ground. Sadie’s voice came out of the cloud, high and pained.
“This doesn’t have to be this way, Stalker!”
It does and you know it, Stalker countered, leaping for the mist. Sadie’s vaporous form rose above and away from Stalker, and Stalker dug her razor-sharp claws into the redwood tree nearby, climbing it with a haste that surprised even Jonathan inside her.
She leapt from the tree at the mist hovering above and so shocked was Sadie that she materialized back into the form of Scalesoar, giving the cougar Totem something to latch onto. Sadie flew up into the sky while Stalker ripped and bit at the soft underbelly of the dragon. She flagged a bit as Stalker realized how high up in the sky they were suddenly.
I will drop you if I must, Stalker, Sadie said. Even a Totem can’t live through a fall like this.
Stalker snarled and glanced down at the redwood forest. Her instincts took over and she clutched at Sadie’s underside. Claws dug into the flesh, but Sadie didn’t seem to notice or care. Seeing the world from this height was unnatural, terrifying.
Bring me down! Stalker demanded.
Will you cease your fighting long enough to talk with me?
Anything, everything! You abomination of all, set me back on the earth this instant.
And Sadie let herself drop, wings drooping in a slow descent. Stalker leaped to the safety of the earth as soon as it was close, panting and heaving. The world spun under her and Jonathan seized the opportunity to take control. Such was her fear and exhaustion that Stalker didn’t fight it.
Aunt Sadie! Jonathan called.
Sadie formed into her human self once more, smiling a painful smile. She was dripping black blood from wounds all over her body. It’s good to hear your voice, Jon. Can you turn back to human?
Jonathan considered. I think I can right now, but then Stalker is banished. I… I think it would be unwise to send her back. Not until she accepts that the cadshee is gone and you are not him.
Sadie said aloud, “Very well. Renee, Marie, could you bring me some bandages and ointment?”
The twins had stood together clutching at each other hopelessly during the fight and the skyward ascent, but Renee nodded dumbly, letting her sister go. “Sergeant, send for the aid kit. Sadie, is the fighting done for now?”
“Yes, Captain Mollen, the fighting’s done. Jon’s in control and Stalker will listen to what I have to say.”
Stalker hissed in Jon’s mind, And if I don’t like what you have to say, Sadie the Abomination, I will die tearing your throat out.
“You may try, grandmother. You may try.”
Renee hesitated a moment before running to Jon’s side. “Jon, that’s you in there?”
He nodded since he could not communicate with her directly.
“Sadie said you were lost.” She put a hand on his sweatslick fur and he pushed his head into her, nuzzling her. She could be angry at him all she wanted later, but he was so relieved she didn’t hate him that this breach of conduct felt okay to him.
She laughed and stroked his face, which bothered his whiskers and he sneezed at her.
Renee jumped back, and then was on the ground shrieking with laughter. The rest of her squad came out at the sound and stared in confusion at the scene. Jon couldn’t help himself. He let out a chuckle, or Stalker’s approximation of a chuckle, and rolled on the ground to offset Renee’s unprofessional behavior.
It was going to be okay. He could feel it, even though Stalker was depressed and scared, angry and volatile. Hurt and betrayed.
It’s gonna be okay, Stalker. I promise we’ll figure this out.
A mollified purr was all he received in return.
Things are closing down on this sub-plot, and next week the beginning of the end will start ramping up! Can Sadie and Stalker come to terms? Can Renee bring her Winged Riders to a victory, or will they be defeated by the overwhelming numbers against them? Just what is the connection between the Totems and the cadshee’s terrible past?