Part Fourteen of the serial novella The Wings Take Shape is coming at you!
Last time on Wings, Stalker and Jon held counsel with Sadie and Renee, learning the truth of the Skinchangers and the enslaved Totems that made them possible. The cadshee had been a product of the Totems, animal spirit gods of the forest, and he enslaved them with their own power, infusing their spirits into the humans that would create the line of Skinchangers. Sadie, being the heir of the cadshee’s powers, agreed to try and free Stalker from Jon, giving her the freedom she so deeply desired.
It was not possible to split their souls, but Sadie discovered she could link them more permanently, giving Jon and Stalker equal control and consciousness. The essences of the other Totems within Jon were stripped away, joining with Sadie, all save for one that appeared to flee and disappear. Before they could enjoy their newfound symbiotic relationship, Renee screamed from down in the tunnels of the cadshee’s home.
The Wings Take Shape
Part Fourteen – A Bond Breaks
by Rick Cook Jr.
“We should be up there,” Marie protested. Renee came back from the meeting with Jon and Sadie, worried all over that something awful was going to befall him. She hated being worried about Jon when she should be plotting to take back Rothfort, to liberate Roth Arden, but she couldn’t help it.
She said to those assembled, “It’s not our business. It’s Totem. It’s Skinchanger. We don’t have the right.”
“To hell with that,” Marie said, trying to shoulder past her sister. Renee arm-barred her and stared her down.
“It’s an order if it has to be, Sergeant.” Anger and something like betrayal surged through the Twinner bond and Renee fought the urge to lower her arm.
Regina gently pulled on Marie’s arm, and Marie let herself be pulled. Private Tanner and Danver glanced at each other, and then looked elsewhere. The mood was uncertain and dour, but Renee didn’t know what else to do just then.
“I’m sure they’ll be fine,” she said. “Whatever they’re doing, Sadie won’t hurt him. Them.”
Danver cleared his throat. “Something on your mind, Recruit?”
He wrung hands, excitement in his eyes. “I just thought you might like to know that we have some new recruits. Hilde and I have been convincing the townsfolk of Panagin’s Toll. They’re ready to enlist and help you.”
That was something, at least. Renee sighed and shared a quick look with Marie. She nodded. “I heard ’em talking you up. Couldn’t do it better myself.”
“Good. That’s good, Danver.” His smile was genuine and she felt doubly bad for pressganging him into service. “I know it wasn’t easy doing what you did, and I appreciate you trying to make up for it. But I need to see them first.” It would help keep her mind off what was happening aboveground until it was done. She could do this.
She held a hand out for Danver to lead her away, and cast a last look at Renee and Regina. “You come find me the second it’s over.”
Her Sergeants nodded and saluted, along with the other Winged Riders in attendance. Her soldiers were far too good for this. She didn’t deserve them. They deserved someone like Rory of the Black. Capable in a pinch, dependable. She had only managed to get her people killed and injured so far.
She followed Danver through the twisting tunnels, listening to his prattle about each new recruit, names she wouldn’t remember, and likely wouldn’t need to, awful as that was to say.
They came into a widened tunnel where there were in fact half a dozen men and women, a few adolescents, and even a spritely young girl couldn’t have had her first bleed yet.
Her heart broke for the girl. Renee was cold and calculating with her troops. She had to be, and it was learned from Captain Claymonte, but this girl was no soldier.
“Here they are,” Danver said, holding an arm out to them as if displaying prize ponies.
Renee stepped forward to greet the ten of them and felt a spike of pain lance into her lower back and twist. She fell away from it, the blade plopping to the ground with her blood dancing flecks as it clunked into the roots. Worry and fear surged from her bond, but it was too late. Danver’s trollop Hilde had killed her.
She dropped to the dirt clutching at the wound in her back. She couldn’t cry out, couldn’t speak. The world was pain and darkness and worried faces, sad faces. The faces were Hilde’s, Danver’s, the new recruits.
Danver clutched at Renee, holding her still as she tried to pull her blade free. It was so hard and her fingers were slick with her own blood. What could they possibly hope to accomplish by this? There was but one exit, and Marie immediately knew about her pain, her dwindling life. They couldn’t flee.
“Why?” she managed. The Panagin’s Toll townspeople watched on. The girl hid her eyes behind hands. What had he promised them? What could they have been thinking?
Danver eased her to the ground and took away her knife and sword. “We can’t win, Renee. You know we can’t. We shouldn’t be trying. I just want my family to be safe. Please understand I didn’t want this.”
Yelling from the tunnel back the way they had come. Marie, but her voice was different. And the bond suddenly quaked. Was this what it felt like for a Twinner to die?
“We—” She coughed blood. “We could have… could have… done it. You never gave it a chance. And now Captain Marie Mollen is going to murder you all for crimes against the crown. As I should have done. Traitors.”
“No, Captain,” Danver begged, “I did it for my family! You must see that. You must!”
Her vision blanked for a moment and she tried to stand, but her strength was all gone.
What was that? It had felt like the bond, but words instead of emotions.
A shadow flitted down the hallway, passing through Danver and Hilde. It surged into Renee, filling her with… something.
What was it? It reminded her of the cadshee, but no malevolence. She passed out as it took her into itself, and her screams ripped through the tunnels as it devoured her, joined with Marie’s howls somewhere in the tunnels.
She woke with a start, a ravenous hunger and a sudden knowledge that she had pissed herself because she could easily smell it.
Danver and Hilde and the townsfolk were trussed up in the corner, bound and gagged and eyes pleading. Regina and Private Wander stood over them, swords at the ready. The tension in the room was thick enough to crumble.
The bond was there. She was alive. And something had changed. Jon knelt above her, wearing someone else’s clothing. Jon.
Marie threw her arms around her sister, hugging so tight it choked her.
“Easy, Marie, easy.”
This is a strange sensation, a voice inside her head said. She blinked rapidly, shaking her head.
“I’m hearing things,” she muttered, pushing her sister away and accepting Jon’s hand up. Something like electricity surged through her fingers into his and back into hers and she shivered. Then she remembered she had been killed.
Except where the wound should be there was now only a rough scar, appearing long healed.
Marie laughed, wiping away tears. “You’re hearing him, too. He’s so confused.”
“He?” Yes, the voice was definitely masculine.
Greetings, Captain Renee Mollen, the voice said again. I am the wolf Totem, Swiftstrike. It appears we now share this body.
Did you see that coming? Huh? Did you? Come on back next week for the continuing adventure!