A late posting of the next part of the serial novella, The Wings Take Shape!
Last time on Wings, Stalker and Jon were busy with Sadie gaining a new, deeper bond. While she waited, Renee let herself be pulled into a trap by Danver and Hilde, who told her they were recruiting for her new army. When she arrived, Hilde stabbed her in the back and Renee thought she was going to die.
Except the spirit of the Wolf Totem, Swiftstrike, entered her and Marie and joined them like Stalker did Jon. Now the Winged Riders have an advantage, if only they can figure out how to utilize it!
The Wings Take Shape
Part Fifteen – The Totems Reborn
by Rick Cook Jr.
Marie hadn’t gotten used to the feeling yet. She and Renee spent hours talking to Swiftstrike, learning about him, sharing stories, thrilling in being able to communicate mentally more fully via Swiftstrike.
He wanted to Change, but Marie wasn’t sure she was ready to let him try.
I wish to run, he said.
“Baby steps, wolf boy,” she muttered, forgetting she could just think it. Jon was taking well to it, as was Renee. Marie didn’t like sharing her mind with something else, but it was a small price to keep her sister alive and well. Several of them sat up late into the night, discussing what this meant. Renee and Marie, Sadie and Jon, Hughes and Tanner.
Sadie had taken the other Totems into her, and not just the ones that Jon had access to before, but all of them that had been enslaved.
“I want to give them to my Wings,” Renee said. All pretense of rank was gone and she held Jon’s hand in hers. Swiftstrike said in Marie’s head, This is a strange feeling Renee feels. I don’t like it directed at Stalker.
“They’re not a possession,” Sadie said.
Renee shook her head. “I don’t mean like that. We need to free them, and if this is the only way to do it, then I would offer them my trusted squad. They can be useful, and we can figure out what else to do later.”
“Ain’t up to us, is it?” Marie said. Swiftstrike growled low in agreement. “Wolf in my head and I didn’t get a say in the matter.”
I saved your sister, Swiftstrike said.
“And I sure as hell appreciate it, she’s the only sister I got,” Marie continued. “But if the Totems want to be free, who are we to tell them who they can inhabit?”
Sadie smiled. “I’ve been communing with them. They have been able to talk to each other, as well. They wish to be free if they can find a suitable host.”
“You say it like it’s possession,” Tanner said, fidgeting. “They aren’t taking over my body, Ulegerd shield me.”
“I don’t think invoking the Hundred is gonna do much,” Regina said, hiding a yawn. “These are something outside the Hundred.”
Not as much as you would think, Swiftstrike said, but when Marie prodded him with her mind he would not explain. Frustrating beast. He chuckled and Renee stared at Marie quizzically, but Marie only shrugged.
Jon said, “I think it’s a fair point, Tanner. Stalker took over my body for hours at a time. She’s gaining less from this arrangement than I am, I think, but she’s a part of me now, in a way nothing else could ever be. If they want to join with someone, I think it’s only fair to ask for volunteers.”
“Well spoken, nephew,” Sadie said, “and not all of them are ready to be parted so soon. Or with people you might approve of.”
“What’s that mean?” Renee asked.
“Foxbane and Finkscuttle wish to be paired with Danver and Hilde, respectively.”
“No way,” Marie shouted, standing with hand on her hilt, “Not after they tried to do for Renee.”
“Did kill,” Renee reminded her. But the bond wasn’t sending agreement, only consideration.
“You ain’t serious, Captain?”
“I don’t like the idea, but if they wish to be free, I won’t stand in their way.”
“Crazy,” Regina said. “You want their help, don’t you, Captain?”
Renee nodded, motioning for Marie to sit. She did reluctantly, letting Swiftstrike soothe her flared temper and worry.
“Swiftstrike says we’re not invulnerable, but that we’re a hell of a lot harder to kill now. A dozen of us leading the charge could turn the tide of this fight.”
Marie considered. She hated the idea, but Swiftstrike said in her mind, We can do it if we work together.
“Does it have to be those two?” she asked. “They tried to kill us more than once!”
“What about the rest of them, Sadie?” Jon asked, interrupting the conversation. Marie suspected she did it on purpose.
Sadie closed her eyes and they all waited for a moment while she conferred with her inner demons. Finally she sighed and stood.
“Shadow-Dancer is reluctant. She has taken to me, but I’m… something else now. I can’t meld with her like the rest of you. Belljetter and Shield-Trudger will abide by whoever will take them, but they warn of a life aquatic.
“Scalesoar?” Renee asked. “The dragon.”
“He’s furious, but not moronic. He fancies pretty things.” She glanced at Tanner and Regina, who both fidgeted nervously.
“Talonglide wishes to join with Farsight Poul. In fact, they all would prefer to be with an Enhanced that they had a hand in creating.”
“So Swiftstrike came to us because he created Twinners?” Marie asked, and Swiftstrike’s mental head nod confirmed it before Sadie could. Weird.
“Just so,” Sadie said. “Song-Catcher just wishes to be with someone with a voice worthy of her song.”
Renee snorted. “That leaves us out, then, doesn’t it?”
Sadie went on, a small smile playing across her lips. Marie would have bet she was remembering the song Marie sang on the night they were running from the cadshee. “And Ursatrundle desires someone of… surly nature. Someone who must be tamed as much as he once was.”
“Is that all of them?” Tanner asked. “Eleven Totems. Twelve people, including the twins.”
Sadie nodded. “I believe Shadow-Dancer, Song-Catcher, and Ursatrundle would appreciate waiting to make their decision until the right person comes along.”
Renee stood and paced. “So that leaves Scalesoar, Talonglide with Farsight Poul if he agrees, Foxbane and Finkscuttle with traitors, Belljetter and Shield-Trudger with anyone who enjoys the water.” She ran her fingers through her tousled hair, which had the amusing effect of making her realize the bun had fallen free and she coiled it back into position.
“Gather the troops,” she said. “Even the traitors.”
I have a request, Swiftstrike said in Marie’s head. She grunted in acknowledgement while Regina and Tanner went off to find the others. Find someone you approve of and convince them to take Finkscuttle.
Why? Marie asked.
He is… A confusing flash of images passed over Marie’s inner sight and she swayed momentarily. Then she fought back a blush.
I’ll do what I can, she promised.
Soon the Winged Riders and the recruits were assembled, and Renee paced back and forth. Danver and Hilde stared at her with wide eyes. She was supposed to be dead and it must be causing them no end of discomfort. Good. Fuck them, she thought.
Swiftstrike soothed her. If these two become Totem hosts, they will prove powerful allies, but even more dangerous enemies. We must treat them well.
Says you, she thought, but it wasn’t up to her, was it?
Finally Renee turned to those assembled. “Listen up, Wings and would-be hanged,” she started, “Something has happened to me, to Jon, to Marie. We have taken in the spirits of the forest, the Totems Stalker and Swiftstrike. They are within us, keeping us healthy and enhancing us.”
“Possessed!” Private Lark called out from his pallet. Nightingale muttered a prayer to the Hundred under her breath, much as Tanner had done, but no one else spoke.
“If you want to see it that way, do,” Renee shot back. “But now we have an opportunity. An advantage. Sadie can help us turn the tide of battle. Give us a chance to get back into the capital and maybe, just maybe, free it from these foreign bastards. We have family to save and I’ll do whatever I have to do if it keeps my mum and dad safe.”
“What are you asking?” Private Yoris called.
“I need volunteers to take in other spirits, other Totems. You’ll no longer be just you, but something a little more. Something stronger. Your wounds will heal faster. You’ll have a constant companion for the rest of your life.”
Lark called out, “I’m not putting a demon inside me just to suit your war, no offense, Captain.”
Bail and Yoris slid free their blades, but when Marie thought they were about to defect, they leveled them at Lark.
Private Bail said, “No offense, Private Lark, but you’re a ninny and a coward.”
Nightingale said, “Will it hurt?”
Marie piped up, “It feels a little funky at first, like maybe hot stones are burning through your skin.” Renee glared at her and she shrugged. “Just telling it like it is, Cap.”
Renee sighed. “Sadie, fill them in if you please.”
She did, and when she was done, they all looked thunderstruck. It was a lot to ask of them, of course. Too much. But Renee was doing what had to be done, and this was an advantage the enemy surely would never see coming.
Renee continued after the explanations, “So here’s the rub. The Totems have preferences. Farsight Poul, how do you feel about Talonglide’s offer?”
Farisght Poul stared at Sadie for a long time. “I’m my own man, but I’m also a dog of the military, if you’ll excuse the expression. You tell me I have to, I’ll do it.”
“I’m not forcing this on anyone,” Renee said. “Strictly volunteer basis. You won’t suffer if you decline.”
Poul’s eyes closed in relief. “Then I decline. This Talonglide sounds like a nice enough lady, but if she’s responsible for what I am, then I’ll keep my distance, thanks.”
It went like that for some time. Bail and Yoris declined. Lark declined vehemently. The other recruits were given the option and they all declined without hesitation.
Marie stepped up when it looked like it was going to go poorly. “If I might, Captain?”
“Let’s take a little break. Let it settle, what you’re asking. It’s a dread lot, you know.”
Renee sighed. “Every minute we hem and haw is one more minute the enemy has to fortify, to kill, to spread. You have an hour and then I’ll ask again.”
Marie pulled Giselle aside as everyone shuffled off. Lark was dragged away on his pallet, complaining the whole way. She didn’t want him to be one of them. Sour man.
“Private, if I ask you to do me a favor, would you do it?” Marie asked when the others were out of earshot.
Giselle Wander’s eyebrows raised and she glanced down and up Marie’s body. “I’d do a lot for Roth Arden, Sergeant. I’d do even more for you. But this is a big ask. Renee says you got a ghost in your brain. I don’t want that.”
“It’s not a ghost,” Marie protested. “He’s a companion. A friend. He kept Renee alive when she was bleeding out on the floor.”
Giselle pulled her arm free of Marie’s grip. “Like I said, it’s a big ask. What would I be getting if I volunteered.”
“His name’s Finkscuttle.”
“Sounds like a rat.”
Swiftstrike growled in her head. May I speak to her? he asked.
You can do that?
She did, and a curious sensation of floating back from her mind enveloped her. Swiftstrike moved into the foreground and assumed control of Marie’s body. Marie hated this, it was awful!
But she fought it and let him do his thing.
His more proper speech came from her mouth, her cadence and lilt but his grammar. It was especially weird to hear the words from her mouth.
“Giselle Wander, I am Swiftstrike.”
“You should have seen your eyes,” Giselle said, “Creepy.”
“The one called Finkscuttle is to me as I believe you wish to be to Sergeant Mollen. I would like him back, but more than that I want him back in a way that does not interfere with Marie’s desires.”
Private Wander grinned. “Oh-ho, desires eh? This is probably the weirdest conversation I’ve ever had. Can she hear me in there?”
“She is aware of every word.” Marie cringed at the feeling of helplessness but Swiftstrike soothed her again. Calm, calm. You can take back control soon.
Giselle made a show of considering, rubbing her hand over her chin. Finally she just shrugged. “If he’ll have me, I’ll have him.”
Marie surged forward at the news and threw her arms around Giselle, planting a kiss on her lips and forgetting herself in the moment.
She dropped back, but Giselle wouldn’t let her go just like that. She held on and lifted her up against her chest, sucking away the breath Marie desperately wanted to draw. Their lips crushed together, almost painfully, but she couldn’t tear herself away. Didn’t want to.
Giselle let her go and her hot breath pressed against her lips. “I knew you was into me,” she said.
“Shut up, Private.”
“I’m not doing this for you, Sergeant, just so you know.”
Marie pushed back from Giselle’s embrace, conscious now of the breach in military protocol. She straightened her jacket and cleared her throat.
“I understand, Private. Go tell Sadie you want a rat inside you.”
Giselle grinned. “I may word it different, Sergeant.” She went off to volunteer and Marie wondered who else would take up the call. Swiftstrike almost purred with satisfaction.
She will be a good mate for us.
Don’t get too ahead of yourself, Marie warned. The memory of the kiss, the crushing pressure, the intense desire, settled in her privates and she wished she’d taken it further.
The others trickled in, volunteering.
Private Nightingale took in Talonglide, which felt ironic but probably wasn’t.
Foxbane and Shield-Trudger joined with Hilde and Danver. They were given their freedom, too, which Marie strongly objected to, but what could she do? Watch them closely. If they or their Totems stepped out of line, Marie and Swiftstrike could handle them. She licked her lips at the thought, then hid the vulpine snarl she realized as on her mouth.
The last two were Scalesoar and Belljetter. Belljetter joined with Regina Hughes, and once Tanner saw her volunteer, he rushed to join and was given to Scalesoar. Figures he’d get the pretty one, Marie mused.
When it was over, and they all lay unconscious as their bodies transitioned to their new states of being, Marie joined her sister outside the tunnel, where the morning light was just now creeping over the trees.
“It’s done,” Marie said. “The horse, the bear, and the bird are holding out for better options.”
“Swiftstrike told me,” Renee responded. Her arms were folded and she looked like she hadn’t sleep in a week. Marie felt the same, although she was energized by Wander’s advance.
“We’re storming the capital, aren’t we?” Marie asked.
Renee grinned, sad and tired and everything Marie admired about her sister all wrapped up in a single expression.
“We have the advantage now. The corpses lining the walls just don’t know it yet.”
Things are about to happen quick, y’all! Come on back next week for the start of the end!