The Wings Take Shape – Part Nine

If you’ve been impatiently waiting to find out what happened to Jon, well, this is your Tuesday! It’s time for the next part of my serial novella The Wings Take Shape!

If you’re new to the story, head to Part One and start from the beginning!

Previously, the last known Winged Riders and free soldiers of an empire under siege were taken captive. Jon turned into a cougar using his Skinchanging ability, killed with reckless abandon, and fled into the night.

The other Winged Riders, under Captain Renee Mollen, managed to escape and head for Jon’s aunt, Sadie, also a Skinchanger and something a little more than that these days. On the way there, wild cougars attacked and Jon came to their rescue, but he couldn’t Skinchange back to a human and fled into the night once more.

Renee tracked down Sadie in the hollow root-system of an old redwood, much like the cadshee had lived in before during their earlier trials against the monster.

Now we head back a ways and find out just what happened with Jon while he was Changed into Stalker, the Cougar.


The Wings Take Shape

Part Nine – Stalker

by Rick Cook Jr.

Jon was losing the fight. The struggle with Stalker had begun the moment he panicked and turned into her. Bodies fell, and he wasn’t in control. He’d always sensed something different about her. Something wild and untamed. Where the others were merely forms to take, Stalker always felt like a different voice in his head.

And she was angry at being so contained.

He fought back against her when she tore open Scout Irons’s throat, forced her to flee into the Bloody Wood.

The taste of Thomas’s blood down his throat was victory. It was pleasing. It haunted his steps. He couldn’t go back to them. Not now they knew what he was. After what he’d done. Continue reading

The Wings Take Shape – Part Eight

Tuesday comes along, and with the dawning of this day, new words form up into a story for you to drink up like water in a desert.

Another chapter of The Wings Take Shape is coming at you!

If you’re new to the story, head to Part One and start from the beginning!

Last week, Captain Renee Mollen and her Winged Riders hid in the bloody wood, the Red Forest, seeking shelter for a little rest in the dangerous forest. Renee was worried about Jon, who had turned into a cougar in front of everyone, revealing his Skinchanger nature and violently murdering Renee’s Scout Irons in his rage and escape. She took to calling for him in the woods, but he didn’t appear.

Sergeant Marie Mollen, Renee’s twin sister, came to Renee and discussed their future and the wisdom in seeking Sadie out knowing that her nephew Jon’s fate was uncertain. The twinner bond they shared was weakening just as they needed it most, but once it starts to go, it is said nothing can be done.

Farsight Poul saw something in the woods creeping upon them, and a pack of cougars set upon them, snarling and ready to attack, but a larger cougar, what must have been Jon, scared them away.

He attempted to Change back to his normal human form, but it failed midway and he fled back into the bloody wood, still a cougar, still wild. They pressed on to find Sadie and hopefully some help.


The Wings Take Shape

Part Eight – Sadie Skinchanger

by Rick Cook Jr.

Another town burned to the ground. Renee was sick of the sight. She brought her Wings to the edge of the bloody wood and they stared at the smoldering wreckage of Sadie’s village.

Marie’s fingers clenched around Renee’s arm. “Is she dead?” she whispered.

“As hard as she fought to keep herself alive against the cadshee? I doubt it.” Renee pulled her arm free and tugged on the reins, making her horse follow into the village square. The rest of Renee’s Wings and recruits came soon after.

It smelled only of charred wood and linen. No scents of burning flesh. No bodies to speak of. That was good. Where had Sadie gone? Had she taken the townsfolk to safety? Her children? Continue reading

The Wings Take Shape – Part Seven

Another chapter is here for your viewing pleasure! Part Seven of The Wings Take Shape is coming at you.

If you’re new to the story, head to Part One and start from the beginning!

Last week, Captain Renee Mollen and her squad were taken captive by foreign soldiers at the trading town Danver’s Table. Amidst questioning, Renee distracted their guards long enough for her twin sister, Sergeant Marie Mollen, and her adopted Sergeant Regina Hughes to free themselves and mount a rescue of the rest of their Winged Riders.

They free the Wings and take control of Danver’s Table, and in the ensuing discussions, Renee presses all the able-bodied men, women, and teenagers into service under her Winged Riders. If they want to be protected, they can help protect.

They have decided to flee for the home of Sadie Sawyer Paige, Jon’s aunt and wife to Jeffrey Paige, a Winged Rider in Captain Claire Claymonte’s employ. Sadie is a Skinchanger of a different ilk, having absorbed the powers of the cadshee, shifting into any form at will. If she still lives and they can find her, Sadie may prove a capable ally in the coming conflict.


The Wings Take Shape

Part Seven – Shadow of the Cadshee

by Rick Cook Jr.

They fled south and west, taking every backwater trail the twins could muster, trying to avoid the main arteries of the empire’s roads. Twice in their desperate, exhausted flight they had run the horses ragged fleeing foreign patrols and taken sanctuary in the bloody wood. And both times they had slept little or not at all.

Marie certainly hadn’t caught more than an hour’s rest. Between Renee’s worry infecting her and Private Wander trying to cozy up to her despite their desperate circumstances, and a needling feel that eyes watched them in the Red Forest, sleep was an old friend gone a long time.

It was her imagination or it wasn’t for that last worry. Maybe it was Jon? Renee patrolled the border of their encampment, calling to him when she thought no one could hear. Wherever the fool had gone, he wasn’t coming back right now. And even as she thought of Renee she realized something else.

Their twinner bond was weakening. Continue reading

The Wings Take Shape – Part Six

Tuesday has arrived and with it another chapter in the epic tale of The Winged Riders as they struggle against a great force, seeking to take back the empire that was stolen.

If you’re new to the story, head to Part One and start from the beginning!

Last week, morale was low in Captain Renee Mollen’s Winged Riders as they searched the countryside for any signs of life capable of joining her on her insane mission to retake the capital. They came upon a village still standing at long last, Danver’s Table, and got their bearings from the leader of the town, Danver Jr.

They bedded down for the night in the town’s common building, only to be taken prisoner once they were asleep. In the scuffle, Jon turned into a cougar, losing control of himself and killing their scout as he fled, disappearing into the Red Forest.

What will the Winged Riders do?


The Wings Take Shape

Part Six – Traitors

by Rick Cook Jr.

Renee spat blood she wasn’t bleeding. The traitors worked over her Sergeants in the small tent they’d set aside special, just for the commanding officers. Every time Marie took a blow to the stomach, or the face, Renee winced at the phantom pain from their bond. Marie was strong. Of course she was, and they’d all had training in how to take a beating, how to survive torture.

But it was too much. Too much for Renee to bear. She cried out, “Enough! You will stop this instant or I will see you hanged for it.”

The townsfolk – bloody bastards – grinned at her over their shoulders. She didn’t know these two men, but it didn’t matter. Traitors were punished and when she got free, Renee would see them all in stocks. Continue reading

The Wings Take Shape – Part Five

And Tuesday comes, bringing whispers of fiction on the wind…

It’s time for the next part of The Wings Take Shape, the second entry in the serial novella series I run on this here blog.

If you’re new to the story, head to Part One and start from the beginning!

In Part Four, the last known Winged Riders scrambled to gain information and plan their next move. Jonathan Sawyer, Skinchanger, grappled with his emotions over the slaying of an enemy while in his wolf form, Swiftstrike. He felt like he might be losing himself.

Captain Renee Mollen and Sergeant Marie Mollen, twins and twinners, sharing an empathic bond, reassured him that he did what was right and necessary. With Sergeant Regina Hughes, they set out to gather an army from the surrounding villages to take back the capital from foreign enemies, only to find each new village and garrison of Kingsguard assaulted and burned down.


The Wings Take Shape

Part Five – Dismay

by Rick Cook Jr.

“This is intolerable,” Renee hissed. She booted her mare into motion after surveying the seventh burned village, the second garrison of Kingsguard slain. Marie marked every body as they passed through. These were innocent men and women. Children. Elders. People that had done no wrong.

“We’ll get the bastards, Renee,” Marie said, riding up beside her sister and giving her a small jostle.

“I’m beginning to doubt it, Marie.” Continue reading

The Wings Take Shape – Part Four

Tuesday is here again, my friends! I hope the week passed for you as fast as it did for me, but perhaps not if you were impatiently awaiting the next part of this story, eh?

If you’re new to the story, head to Part One and start from the beginning!

In Part Three, Wing Captain Renee Mollen conferred with Sergeant Regina Hughes in the Red Forest while learning what she could of the events inside the capital city. The place has been overrun, and Renee’s old Captain, Claire Claymonte, is presumed dead along with the rest of the Winged Riders and Kingsguard remaining in the city.

Sergeant Hughes is now on a mission to round up every Kingsguard and able-bodied adult around the empire and return in force to retake the capital. Captain Mollen agrees to escort her on her mission and help lead the assault, though the thought of acting as a general terrifies her.

Meanwhile, Sergeant Marie Mollen led three of her Winged Riders down the road, hoping to distract the soldiers and keep them off Sergeant Hughes. They successfully trick the enemy soldiers into chasing them, and dispatch them before they can escape back to the capital. A wolf the size of a horse comes leaping out of the Red Forest to stop an escaping enemy soldier, then disappears back into the woods. Marie suspects it was Jonathan, Changed into the wolf she and Renee know him to be capable of becoming.

Before they rejoin Captain Renee Mollen, they discover evidence of the enemy soldiers possibly serving the Totemic Gods, one of which is a cougar.

On to Part Four!


The Wings Take Shape

Part Four – Madness
by Rick Cook Jr.

Jonathan stalked the bloody wood as Swiftstrike, his throat raw and his stomach empty after what he had done to that soldier. He had deserved it, surely. He was the enemy.

And yet the taste of his blood was sticky in Jonathan’s mouth, coating his muzzle, and he dry-heaved against the forest floor yet again. He had never killed a man before. And it had been so easy.

So very easy.

He was almost back. Just a little farther. But suddenly he felt woozy, dropping to the loamy earth. Continue reading

The Wings Take Shape – Part Three

Ah, can you smell it? The oaky scent of a fresh installment in The Wings Take Shape.

If you’re new to the story, head to Part One and start from the beginning!

Last week, Sergeant Marie Mollen helped keep order in the Red Forest while her twin sister, Captain Renee Mollen, decided what they should do. Their home had just come under attack from a foreign enemy, and they were barely outside the city when it started.

Private Jonathan Sawyer, a secret Skinchanger, took flight as a hawk to gather intel for Captain Mollen, and they rushed to the gates of the city based on what he had to say. Marie and Renee’s old Sergeant, Regina Hughes, came bursting out of the exploded gate, fleeing the capital, and Renee helped escort her to safety.

They flee to relative safety in the bloody wood while Sergeant Marie Mollen leads the chasing soldiers away with three of her Winged Riders to fight them off.


The Wings Take Shape

Part Three – Reunion
by Rick Cook Jr.

Renee urged silence as they worked. The foreign soldiers had scarcely passed them by, Marie’s presence flitting away on a high of anger and excitement. Regina Hughes was not just injured, she was pinned to her horse, biting on the leather reins as Tanner and Jon removed the crossbow bolt from the thrashing horseflesh and finally through Regina’s backside.

Regina fell from the saddle only to be caught by Tanner, and he set her down against the red bark of the tree, preparing bandages. She sucked in breaths, seething through teeth clenched tight.

“The rutting bastards,” she hissed. “Can’t believe I let them get a shot at me.” Continue reading

The Wings Take Shape – Part Two

Tuesday has come once again and it is now time to delve back into the world of shapeshifters, twinners, and more with Part Two of “The Wings Take Shape”!

If you’re new to the story, head to Part One and start from the beginning!

Last week, Jonathan Sawyer, hiding his Skinchanger abilities from the empire, found himself a recruit of the elite military Winged Riders under his twin friends Renee and Marie. They have set out upon their first mission together when the capital comes under attack from a foreign hostile takeover. They barely escape into the Red Forest with their lives and must decide what to do next.


The Wings Take Shape

Part Two – Fight or Flight

by Rick Cook Jr.

“This is insane!” Marie shouted, holding the reins of her horse as it tried to bolt once again. They had no horse-whisperer and she felt the lack keenly. The others all struggled with their horses, too. They weren’t far from the edge of the woods, maybe a quarter mile, but it was dread dark here, the light strangled under too many branches overhead.

Only then did it occur to Marie: “We’re in the bloody wood.”

“Sergeant!” Renee shouted from atop her horse. Not Acacia. She’d had to give up that scout’s horse for something hardy, and in every way she had emulated Captain Claymonte with a stout white mare.

Marie pulled her horse forward to Renee. “Renee?”

“Take Scout Irons and find us a clearing. Send for me when you have it.” Continue reading

The Wings Take Shape – Part One

WELCOME back to Panning For Clouds! It’s Tuesday and I’ve got Part One of a new serial novella all set up down below. If you read “The Shape of Family” as it was posted last year, I have good and bad news for you. The good news is that you will soon be able to buy that novella on Amazon for a buck under the title “The Shapes We Take”. The bad news is that you cannot read it right this very moment as it is being prepared for Amazon Kindle. I hope to have that out by the end of the month!

Other good news: Having read “The Shape of Family” will give you some decent insight into several of the characters, but it is not necessary to understand what is happening in “The Wings Take Shape”, so you can hop right in and enjoy!

The way this works, if you’re new to the blog, is that I will be writing and posting a new Part (Chapter) to “The Wings Take Shape” every Tuesday until the novella is complete. It will remain free to read on the blog for an undisclosed amount of time, at which point it will be taken down to get the same Amazon treatment while I prepare to write and post the third novella. That may be later this year, or it may be the start of next year. Not sure!

So join me on the continuing adventures of the Winged Riders! I have a lot of fun things planned for this story and I’m excited to be coming back to it.

A real quick recap for those who haven’t read the first novella:

  1. Sadie is a shapeshifter that takes on the form of a horse to sneak her way into the capital and rescue her shapeshifting nephew who has gotten captured.
  2. Claire is the captain of a squad of Winged Riders, elite soldiers of the empire. She and her Wings catch Sadie as a horse.
  3. A creature known as the cadshee attempts to abduct the young scout Marie, killing her horse in the process. She rides Sadie to the capital to warn of the cadshee’s increased daytime activity. The cadshee is a creature of smoke and oil, capable of shifting his form to become anything he likes. He is the last of his kind, bent on reviving his species, which requires young, fertile mammals to carry his brood.
  4. Marie is a Twinner, capable of emotional bonds at distance with her sister, Renee, also a scout. Renee and Marie meet on the road and Renee is abducted in the place of Marie. Marie and Sadie go to rescue Renee, but only manage to get Marie caught and Renee rescued.
  5. They meet back up with Claire. Sadie reveals her shapeshifting to Jeffrey, Claire’s Sergeant, so that he agrees to help her find Marie and then Sadie can get on with her own mission of saving her nephew.
  6. Claire is investigating a cult in the village of Stalbridge. She accuses Jeffrey of collusion with this cult when he is acting suspicious. Jeffrey knocks Claire out and takes Renee, fleeing on Sadie as a horse to try and rescue Marie.
  7. The cadshee knocks out Jeffrey, misses Sadie shapeshifted as a mouse, abducts both Marie and Renee and flees to a secret chapel he used to fool humans into doing his bidding once upon a time.
  8. Claire and her Winged Riders are injured during a skirmish with the cadshee, and Sadie discovers she can harm the creature when none else seem to be able to.
  9. They find information on the cadshee’s cult in Stalbridge and go after him, to try and put him down before he can enact his plan of rape, murder, and a new era of darkness as his brood sweeps across the land.
  10. They are losing the fight until the cadshee reveals that he is the father of Sadie’s skinchanging people, also revealing the names of creatures that were lost to time. Sadie becomes a dragon and they fight to the death, Sadie ultimately winning and taking the cadshee’s powers of smoke and oil.
  11. She and Jeffrey have two children, both of whom are also creatures of smoke and oil. Sadie has nightmares that they will mask the world in darkness. Her nephew, Jonathan is rescued and is interested in becoming a Winged Rider.


The Wings Take Shape

Part One – Recruits

by Rick Cook Jr.

The capital of the Empire stared down at Jonathan. He hated the place, but it was home during training. His fellow recruits waited with him in the practice yard. Waiting for their results.

Waiting to find out if they were Winged Riders.

Aunt Sadie was in attendance with her two toddling boys. He only wished he had her air of nonchalance. She favored him with a brief smile while talking with Claire Claymonte, famed Wing Captain. The rumors had it that Captain Claymonte wanted him for her retinue, and he knew the reason why.

Jonathan Sawyer was a Skinchanger. Continue reading

Minotaur Kid’s Club [2,066 words]

This short story is posted in Fantasy.


It’s been a hot minute since I posted anything at all, but new year and all that. Time to start fresh with a new short story response to Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge, Roll For Title. Twice as long as the word limit, but I really don’t adhere to that very often.

Minotaur Kid’s Club

by Rick Cook Jr.

“This is it, this time, I can feel it, guys!” Marth whispered, his voice cracking. He was in the back, by torchlight reading yet another map to the Labyrinth. Corley huffed. Wenda wrung her hands together.

They rounded a corner in the sewer tunnels, finding another long, straight stretch. The tunnel walls sagged and crumbled, forlorn with age. Continue reading