Flight of the Five Swans

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Flight Chapter 10

Thaleia

In a matter of moments, the transformation was complete. Thaleia lay, panting, on the cold floor of the throne room. She found it unbelievably difficult to move—or even to think about moving. Her newly transformed body shook all the way from her beak down to her tail feathers, as if still reacting to the excruciating pain that had gripped it mere seconds ago. Struggling to stand, she attempted to use her wings to push herself up off of the ground, but found it impossible to gain purchase with her feathers. She scrabbled at the floor with her feet instead, horrified at how floppy and utterly fragile they felt. At last, she managed to get them under her body, and she lifted it off the ground. Unsteadily, Thaleia stood and looked around.

The first thing she noticed was the difference in height. Whereas Thaleia had never been the tallest person—or even the tallest of her sisters—neither would anyone have considered her short. But with this new body, she was only half as tall as she’d been as a human, if that. The spacious room towered over her even more than it had before. She felt dizzy as she craned her long neck to look up at the ceiling, and just barely caught herself from falling over again.

The next thing she couldn’t help but notice was her sisters. At the spot where they had previously been standing now stood four white birds, virtually indistinguishable from each other. Two of the four were still struggling to gain their feet. The third bird was attempting to waddle forward and clearly finding it difficult. She swerved and stumbled into one of those attempting to rise, and both birds went down again. The fourth swan stood motionless, as though accustomed to her form and already unimpressed by it. Cliodne.

Among the four swans stood Raia, still fully human. Her wide gray eyes stared around at them all in horror. Her gaze lingered on Thaleia, and she seemed to recognize her twin in spite of her new form. Thaleia attempted to walk towards her, but she, too, found it to be much harder than she had expected. Her short feet tangled under her, and she stumbled.

Soran laughed.

White-hot fury filled Thaleia’s chest, and she immediately abandoned all attempts to walk. She threw herself at the sorcerer, flying towards him with strong, sturdy wing beats. Walking—and even standing—as a swan had been difficult, but flying? Flying was fast. Flying was instinctual.

Flying was easy.

The other swan sisters had the exact same reaction as Thaleia, launching themselves at Soran to attack. Beat him! Bite him! Peck him! Yet no matter how hard they tried, neither Thaleia nor any of her swan sisters could seem to touch Soran with beak or wing—or even reach him at all. There was some sort of protective shield around him that prevented them from getting close to him. Nevertheless, the five swans continued to ram themselves against the invisible barrier, trying in vain to attack the hateful man. When at last she stopped, Thaleia’s sides heaved once more, and she flopped to the floor in exhaustion.

“Why?”

Raia’s voice was small and plaintive. Thaleia craned her long neck to look at her twin. Raia had fallen to her knees. Her dress—one of those borrowed from Cliodne—was just a tad too big in the shoulders, and hung oddly on her frame. Her hands were clenched tight around the rust-colored fabric, and her knuckles were white. Thaleia’s heart ached to see tears swimming in the gray eyes so like her own.

“Why?” Raia repeated, her voice choked. “Why not me?”

Soran sounded amused. “I need one of you capable of holding a quill. And after that diverting display, it’s clear that I chose correctly. A fighter, my dear, you are not.”

Thaleia made one last desperate effort to strike Soran following that remark, but was thrown backwards before she was able to lay so much as a feather on him. Soran shook his head, smiling slightly.

“Guards,” he said, and the Deturian soldiers suddenly reappeared, emerging from the shadows. “Take Princess Raia to her new chamber and see that she is made comfortable. You may give her her belongings, but first check the contents of her trunk for weapons before leaving it with her. I’ll be calling for her shortly, and I do not care to have any more blood spilled.”

Two of the guards stepped forward to where Raia knelt and helped her to her feet. With one last glance behind her at her feathered sisters, Raia was escorted from the throne room and out of sight. Thaleia tried to yell her sister’s name as she left, but all that escaped her mouth was a loud honk.

Soran glanced down at her, the expression on his face radiating a slight curiosity. “You certainly are a persistent one, aren’t you?” he mused to himself. Thaleia glared at him, though she was not entirely certain whether her anger translated properly through her new avian eyes.

“As for the rest of you, I see no need for restraints.” Soran said. “I’m not entirely heartless, after all. You’re free to go—“ he smirked, “Excuse me, fly—where you wish. But I’d be back by nightfall, if I were you.”

The swan sisters were herded, hissing and honking, from the throne room by no less than eight of the Deturian soldiers. The men seemed far less comfortable dealing with fowl than with people. After all, Thaleia figured, herding disgruntled water birds had likely not been in their job description. She took a savage pleasure in making their task as difficult as possible, splitting off from the group on several occasions so they were forced to chase her down, and craning her long neck to bite as many legs as she could possibly reach. The other swans followed her example, hissing at the guards as they tried to slap their beaks away. When the strange procession finally reached the castle doors, Thaleia was sure that the soldiers were perhaps more relieved than they were.

And then they were outside.

Thaleia bit at one last leg, dodged the guard’s hand as he swiped at her, and then took off, her wings churning. Her swan sisters launched into the air around her, and the five of them situated themselves intuitively into a V formation. Thaleia’s feathers ruffled as she and the other swans rose higher and higher.

Flying was fast. Flying was instinctual. Flying was easy.

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