|The Transformation Story Archive||Mythical Beings|
The clouds would have been beautiful at any other time. Brilliant white in the Spring sun, they formed a cottonball blanket over the ground. They weren't so pretty when you were looking for a safe place to land.
Rick tapped the fuel gage again, hoping to change the reading from Empty. No luck. The little Piper Cherokee was sucking fumes from the starboard tank, and unless whatever was clogging the port tank freed up in the next few minutes, his options were going to run out quick.
He grabbed the crumpled chart and scanned it again. Damn! This had to happen in the most remote leg of his flight. The land below was full of craggy mountains and forests. No marked airstrips, not even a large clearing.
In a way, it was somewhat ironic to have trouble now. This cross-country jaunt had been planned as sort of a last fling before he gave up his license for good. The ever-increasing rules and restrictions on private pilots had taken most of the thrill out of flying. The expense and limitations outweighed the fun, and it didn't look like the balance was going to change for the better.
There was a pop from the engine, and the steady vibration faltered for a moment. He held his breath until the pump scavenged up another bit of fuel and the engine surged. It was only a short reprieve. He was going down. What was the old line? Be careful what you wish for? Well, he'd been wishing for some of the old thrills in the air. Resigning himself, he picked up the mike.
"Mayday! Mayday! Mayday! This is Yankee-1-0-7-niner. Almost out of fuel. Cloud cover is blocking all view of land. Repeat. Mayday! Mayday! Yankee-1-0-7-niner going down. Coordinates are..." He reached for the chart with his free hand.
The engine popped again, and this time it didn't clear up. Dropping both mike and chart, Rick gritted his teeth and threw the plane hard over into a wild cartwheel. He was gambling with precious altitude, hoping to shake free whatever was clogging the fuel tank. Clouds loomed and then turned into a grayish fog around him as he plunged through.
The gages were unreadable as the plane plummeted down. A swirl of light began to form around him, and then he fell out of the cloud cover. His stomach knotted as he saw the rotating landscape. The plane was in a wild spin, and he didn't have the power or altitude to pull out before he hit the rocky mountainside which was now visible below him.
There was another pop from the faltering engine, this time followed by a sudden surge of power as it roared back to life. The wild spin must have shaken the clog loose. Desperate, Rick fought to turn the spin into a controllable dive. The airframe flexed as wings caught an updraft of air, and he pulled back on the wheel. Too late. He screamed as he flew into the mountainside at full throttle.
And found himself surrounded by clear blue sky. The stall warning horn startled him out of dazed relief, and he eased back on the wheel until it quit. Then he took a shuddery breath and looked down.
More than the mountain was gone. A huge body of water had replaced the trees and valleys. More importantly, it was several hundred feet below him, a relative difference to his altitude which had saved his life. While he was grateful for the results, the question now was just where the Hell was he?
Grabbing the chart, he scanned for any indication of big lakes. A quick check out the window confirmed his first impression. Wooded shoreline was visible about a mile to the East, but rippling blue water stretched out to the horizon in all other directions. He pulled up on the wheel, hoping he could see more at higher altitude. A large shadow flashed across the windshield, followed by a heavy thud as the windshield exploded in a spray of shattered Plexiglas and blood.
"Shit!" The plane lurched as whatever he had hit slammed into the starboard wing. Fighting for control, he managed to steady the battered airplane. Forced to squint against the rush of wind, he looked out to see a huge dent in the wing's leading edge. God! What had he hit? The aluminum frame was badly buckled, creating tremendous drag. What the hell kind of bird was big enough to do that kind of damage?
Probably the same kind that let out an unearthly shriek somewhere behind him. A high-pitched scream made his teeth ache and his blood run cold. Best to keep heading away from whatever it was. Even damaged, the Piper was doing a good 130. Nothing living could catch him from behind.
Almost as he thought that, something hit the plane from above. The fuselage behind him creaked as the plane lurched downward, and then surged back up so quickly that his head snapped back. Stressed far beyond its design limitations, his 30 year-old Piper literally tore apart in mid-air.
The engine ripped itself from the firewall, gyrating madly as it raced ahead of the main body. The starboard wing joined it a moment later. At the same time, the fuselage twisted around him like a washcloth being wrung out, riveted panels ripping off of the airframe.
Rick grabbed at the wheel as the door latch gave way, praying fervently that his seat belt would hold. Not that it mattered. The plane had become a one-ton lump of scrap metal. Scrap metal didn't fly.
Or did it? The water didn't seem to be getting any closer. In fact, he could feel a regular upward surge. No motor, one wing gone. What was keeping the plane in the sky? He craned his head close to the windshield and looked up.
For a moment, it looked like he had been grappled by some immense cargo plane. The bright blue belly shimmered in the sunlight, oddly deformed as each upward surge came. Not the rigid metal body of another aircraft. Squinting, he realized that the surface was made up of iridescent scales, scales covering a massive, living body. Childhood fantasies provided an identification that his rational mind could not. A dragon.
He stared at the rippling belly for a long time before dull pain finally drew his attention to his own legs. They were pressed tightly between the plane's dashboard and the seat, pinned when the fuselage had warped the airframe. But there was something else. Throbbing, growing numbness. He slowly realized that part of the cold air whipping around him was coming from under the dash, where the firewall was supposed to be.
Squinting against the blast of wind, he twisted down as best he could and looked under the dash. The front of the cockpit ended in a open window of jagged metal. Apparently, the engine and mount had acted as a gigantic food processor as they spun away, shredding the firewall, foot pedals, and cables. And the lower half of both his legs.
Darkness began to close in around him, though he didn't know if it was from blood loss or simple shock. Drained of all strength, he didn't bother to fight. The last thing he was aware of was his own incredulous laughter.
He felt awful. And his face was pressed into what felt like someone's overgrown lawn. Rick struggled to get up, only to flail helplessly in the thick grass as muscles refused to cooperate. It took a moment for him to comprehend a number of important facts. Number one, he was alive. Number two, he was on what seemed to be solid ground. Number three....back to number one.
How could he be alive? Even allowing that he had somehow escaped the dragon.. He stopped there for a moment, trying to reconcile the blur of images and memories. A dragon? No, that was impossible. Another plane? Could he have flown into an airliner? Oh, God. That would explain a lot. The bright blue belly, his aircraft tearing itself apart. Maybe he'd pulled up and gotten caught on the other plane's landing gear. That still didn't answer the first question. Of course, he also didn't know how badly he was injured. Being alive might be a temporary condition.
Odd thing was, nothing hurt. No exactly. The main sensation was a dull tingling, like when his foot fell asleep and was just starting to wake up. Except that the tingling covered his whole body. Inside, too. Along with churning, pulling, and throbbing in various places. Not painful, just damned uncomfortable.
Pushing aside thoughts of immanent death, he tried to figure out what his injuries were. He was lying on his stomach, arms stretched out over his shoulders. Limbs still weren't responding properly, and sent back strange, distorted sensations. Considering what he remembered from before, there was a good chance he didn't have feet anymore.
He gave up trying to move for now and focused on his surroundings. Vision was blurred and distorted. Must have gotten a concussion. He could feel the warmth of the sun on his back, and there seemed to be plenty of light. So it was daytime. The grass he was lying on was thick and lush, with a strong odor that he found pleasant.
A sudden breeze made him blink, then grew first into a gust of wind, and then a powerful blast which nearly flipped him over. The air carried new scents with it, one rich and musky, the other so foul it burned his nostrils. Then something hit the ground next to him with a heavy thud.
Turning his head, Rick was able to make out a huge white mound. Vision cleared a bit, and he could make out a sodden tangle of huge feathers. The mound moved, rolling over on its side. The white was broken now by areas of black, and a red spot which spread out into a pinkish stain. The dark areas were hooves. Solid, not cloven. A horse? The red stain was probably around the neck. And as the carcass rolled on its side, a bedraggled wing lifted up >from the mound like a main sheet unfurling over a wrecked sailboat.
His mind struggled to connect the feathers with the animal. A white horse with wings? Dredging up more childhood memories, he came up with the term Pegasus. That made about as much sense as the dragon he had imagined earlier.
There was movement behind the dead Pegasus, and he struggled to angle his head enough to see past it. A larger, darker shape appeared, iridescent blue and very threatening. Imaginary or not, the dragon was back. It glared down at him with malevolent, solid red eyes. And shrieked.
Rick winced, feeling the sound not with his ears, but in his head. It triggered a throbbing which pushed out from the center of his brain. There was a swelling sensation in his face, and oddly, his skull and chest. At the same time, vision cleared even more, and the strain of holding his head up lessened considerably.
The ground pressed against the center of his ribcage now, as if a mound of dirt had risen underneath him. Confused, he tried to rise again, only to stop at strange sensations from his shoulders. They felt, well, wrong. It was the way they rotated. As if the joints were blow his neck, not next to it. And his elbows were digging into the dirt a lot closer to the strange shoulders than they should be. Even odder was the realization that his head was comfortably level, even though his chest was still pressing into the grass.
The dragon shrieked again, this time creating a different sound which echoed slightly. "Prey."
Prey? Or pray? Either was probably accurate. Helpless, there was little he could do to prevent the supposedly mythical beast from killing him. And yet, it was communicating with him. Why?
Attempting to talk only made things worse. His mouth was swollen, with a thick tongue that felt impossibly long. And his jaw kept wanting to pop sideways. Was it dislocated?
Another shriek from the monster. "Human. How come?"
The words were clearer, if no less ambiguous. Human was obviously a description. The last was stated as a question. Which made no sense. How come? What? That he was human? That he was lying on the ground? Even if he could make the unfamiliar muscles of his face cooperate, he didn't know what to say.
"How come. How come here?"
There as a curious swelling sensation in his head again, and the shriek part of the dragon's conversation somehow lessened. Still there, but relegated to the status of background noise as the words assumed a clear and distinct voice inside his head. Something like Peter Cushing in Star Wars, except with a strange, nasal accent. Should have been Sean Connery. Telepathy? That made a strange kind of sense. And gave him an idea of how to respond. Concentrating as best he could, Rick formed a question in his mind. "Who are you?"
OK. They were talking. Except that he hadn't heard anything very encouraging so far. Swallowing hard, he tried again. "Where am I?".
Oh, this was going well.
"How come here?"
Rick pondered that. Given the conversation so far, the dragon must be asking how he had gotten to wherever they were. "Something hit my plane. I was hurt. I woke up here."
He struggled to come up with an explanation. "Uh, a machine that flies."
There was silence for a moment, and then the dragon nosed the dead Pegasus' feathers. "Wings not yours?"
"Sort of." The dragon seemed to be following him so far. "Wings built by others for me. So I can fly."
"Kill Prey." A statement. Was the monster telling him it had killed the Pegasus? No, there was more to it than that. Realization came with a cold chill. The first impact, the one that had smashed the windscreen. Twisting his head around, Rick took a better look at the carcass. The animal's chest and throat had been torn open. By the propeller, as he had come up under the poor beast. God! No wonder the wing had been damaged! "Did you attack my plane? The 'wings not mine'?"
"Wings not yours kill Prey. Not right. Prey for Predator only." The dragon snorted in emphasis.
The damned thing thought he had tried to steal its dinner! "I don't want it! It was an accident! Go ahead, eat it all. Take it!"
"Dead." The single word dripped with a feeling of distaste, even revulsion.
"I know it's dead! Can't you..." His thought was overwhelmed by another throbbing which sent ripples through his entire body. Clenching his eyes shut, Rick groaned as his body convulsed. The ground slid underneath him, pulling at parts of his body in strange ways. Gasping, he realized that the sensation was not the ground moving, but his own growth.
Ignoring the monster, he stared down at his arms, only to find a white mass blocking forward vision. Tilting his head to one side, he was able to see two limbs in about the right place. Except they weren't arms. Even if they hadn't been covered with white fur, there was no mistaking the thick, rounded shape of equine forelegs. After all, he had a model to go by.
Feeling a bit lightheaded, he continued the examination with a mixture of stunned disbelief and morbid curiosity. His hands had elongated incredibly, the once-delicate bones fusing into far sturdier lower legs below his swollen wrists. Fingers had thickened and fused in twos, leaving the thumb of each hand oddly separated and centered more towards the back. The nails were thick and black, encompassing the entire end of the fused fingers. Not quite hooves yet, but obviously no longer human. The discovery reminded him of the many other strange sensations being reported to his brain.
His head twisted around far too easily to view his side and back, both of which shared the downy white covering he had seen on his arms. It was also clear why he felt pressure along the center of his ribcage. His chest had barreled out, doubling in depth. For the first time, he realized that his clothing was gone, but it wasn't a big concern anymore.
"You Prey." The dragon was attempting to explain.
Rick understood now. He had killed the Pegasus, albeit unintentionally. And somehow, he was being transformed to replace it. To become Prey. So, he hadn't escaped death after all. Resignation did nothing to soothe his fears. He gave a bitter look at the watching monster. "Waiting for dinner? Why bother, you bastard? If you're gonna kill me anyway, get it over with."
Perhaps the dragon picked up on the raw terror behind his false bravado. There was a trace of humor behind its thoughts now. "No kill. Prey must be free, must live. Must balance."
Focusing on the 'No kill' part, Rick felt a surge of hope. "You aren't going to eat me? Why are you changing me, then?"
Confusion now behind those blood red eyes. "Balance is all. You alter balance. Balance alters you." Considering his past conversations, the dragon was almost waxing eloquent. Three sentences. Nine whole words. None of which made any sense.
He shuddered as change rippled through him yet again, this time forcing himself to watch. Forelegs stretched out longer, the dark lumps of his fingers fusing into recognizable hooves. And he could make out swellings behind his neck which he guessed were the beginnings of wings.
Whatever was transforming him wasn't wasting any time. Rick struggled to rise, and found that he could actually control all four legs enough to succeed. Wobbly at first, he quickly got used to the new joints and limitations. A bit too quickly, he thought. A few practice steps confirmed his suspicions. Walking on four legs seemed perfectly natural almost as soon as he tried it. His mind was changing as well. For now, it seemed to be a simple adjustment to his new body.
Perhaps it was deeper than that. The dragon's acrid odor was triggering a powerful sense of danger. Big surprise. However, there was also a growing aggression which puzzled him. Granted, a Pegasus was a much more formidable opponent than a man. But against a dragon, what difference did it make?
"Prey can kill Predator. Or Predator can kill Prey." The dragon was reading his mind now. And it was up to four-word sentences.
More importantly, Rick found that he believed the monster. Looking closer, he could see scars in the iridescent hide, places where scales were missing. Perhaps kicked off by a powerful equine leg? "Balance?"
The dragon nodded in agreement. Perhaps there was a chance after all. The dragon was larger, but Rick was probably much more maneuverable in the air. While fangs and claws gave advantage in aerial attacks, his equine form could move easily on land, perhaps seeking refuge in the heavy forest.
He shuddered again as a new muscles pulled in his back. Wings were unfolding, bringing with them a curious change in vision. Colors and objects were clearer than ever before, yet he perceived distortions all around. In the air.
Blinking, Rick began to detect patterns, different directions and speeds. Almost as if... He extended his wings without thinking, and saw a change in the distortions around him. The dragon's eyes narrowed, leathery blue wings quivering in anticipation. And then Rick leaped into the air.
The dragon held back just a moment. Perhaps to give Rick enough lead to offset his inexperience. Or maybe it hadn't expected such a bold move so quickly. As the ground fell away from him, Rick found an easy familiarity with the sky around him. There was no time to enjoy his newfound freedom, for the Predator launched itself after him.
The Pegasus trumpeted defiance at the approaching monster, spinning to face its mortal enemy. Waiting until the brilliant blue monster was almost upon him, he folded his wings and dropped like a rock. The rancid stink washed over him as he fell below the Predator's claws, and extended his wings once again to catch the air. Cartwheeling, he lashed out with his hind hooves just in time to catch the monster's spiked tail as it flashed by.
The resulting shriek carried no words, but there was satisfaction mixed in with the pain. And perhaps some trace of respect. The Prey dove for the ground, no longer concerned with its past, its future, or how it had come to be here. All that mattered was the rush of the wind, the thrill of the sky, and the balance of life.
Balance copyright 1997 by Bob Stein.
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