This day’s certainly going well, Andrew thought, as he pulled himself up onto the rocky shore. First, a bright sunny day suddenly turned cloudy, then the radio died, followed by the GPS losing signal, and then while he’d been distracted trying to get that working again, he’d managed to run his boat full speed into a rock that he could have sworn hadn’t shown up on the map before the GPS conked out. Just dandy. So much for a nice relaxing day of getting away from the office. At least I managed to grab the flares before the boat went down. And I paid for the insurance on the rental.
Picking up the small bag of equipment he’d salvaged from the wreck, he gazed at his surroundings. He’d ended up in the middle of a group of tiny rocky islands and outcroppings rising out of the sea. Some were bare, and some had seagrasses and mosses growing on them. But dominating the view was a (relatively) large island at the edge, upon which the remains of a stone tower or lighthouse stood. The roof of the tower was completely gone, with a jagged edge slicing diagonally across the remaining stones. A solitary large window remained near the edge of the cut. Debris from what had once been the roof lay next to the tower, along with two smaller, similarly ruined outer buildings.
No point in staying around here. At least that looks dry. Andrew began making his way across the rocks to the central tower. As he walked, he realized it was growing colder. The sun tried to poke through the clouds in a few places, but the weather remained stubbornly overcast. He began contemplating the less-than-ideal proposition of spending the night on the island by the time he reached the base of the tower.
As he entered the tower, he gazed up. It was rather different than he’d expected. The tower was practically hollow – very little in the cavernous bottom floor. A spiral staircase wove around vine-covered support columns keeping the upper floors from crashing to the ground. The gray stone walls of the tower were curiously bare, even for a tower as exposed as this one. Almost as if the bottom of the tower was little more than an empty base for whatever lay at the top.
Carefully making his way up the crumbling steps, Andrew scrambled through a rotted-away trapdoor in the roof of the chamber. The musty air of the tower gave way to the smell of the ocean once more, as he emerged into the ruined upper portion of the tower. Although covered in a mixture of dust, salt, and moss, the remnants of the large room made it clear that it had once been ornately decorated. Several ruined tapestries hung from the walls of the room, with ornate, polished stones hanging in between them, acting as mirrors. The room seemed to have once lead to even higher chambers, but they had long since given way to the elements and collapsed down the side of the tower, spilling debris into what remained of the middle chamber.
Andrew sighed briefly, realizing that the tower would provide him with protection little better than the rocks below. Maybe one of the outer buildings had a smaller room that wouldn’t lose heat so fast? Before going, however, he decided he might as well fire off a flare or two from the remaining window. They would be visible further than from the ground, after all.
He crossed to the window, taking the opportunity to look more closely at the tapestries. Each was woven with fine threads, and numerous symbols he didn’t recognize (Although, he admitted to himself, I'm so tired that I probably wouldn’t recognize English at this point, and languages were never my strong suit) with crests containing stylized birds in the center. Pedestals (or, in some cases, the remains thereof) were positioned in front of each tapestry. On one pedestal, in front of an ornate green and gold tapestry featuring some sort of bird of prey in its crest, lay a small wooden box. Similar boxes lay near the other remaining pedestals, but broken and splintered.
Curiosity overcoming him, he opened the box to find, to his surprise, a nearly-pristine mask. It covered half the face, with the nose portion extended to mimic a beak. The brow was furrowed, with colors and markings mirroring that he would expect to see on a hawk or an eagle. Picking it up to look closer, it felt unexpectedly warm. Reasoning that it was simply the materials making up the mask, he turned it over in his hands. It looked like it would fit. Maybe this trip wasn’t for nothing after all, he thought. Turning to one of the mirror stones, he used his shirt sleeve to wipe away some of the dirt and grime, so that he could see his windswept, soaked reflection. Well, this isn’t perfect, but at least it’ll give me an idea of how this might look.
Placing the mask on his face, he was surprised to find that it fit almost like a glove. He hadn’t even realized there was no strap to hold it over the back of his head, but he didn’t need it. It was almost like the mask had been custom-made for his face. It even blended into his beard. He admired the way the mask glinted off the hints of light playing across the mirror. Was the sun finally coming out? He made a few poses in the mirror, some very extremely serious and some curling his so-called biceps. Ignoring a sudden itching sensation, he extended his arms out like wings. And starting thinking. And feeling. And closing his eyes and imagining what it might be like to take to the air. To feel oneself gliding on currents of air. That would certainly be---OW!
Andrew was snapped out of his daydream by a sudden pain in his feet. Wondering if he’d stopped too long and his feet were simply protesting from the long walk, he bent down to adjust his shoes, but stopped as he noticed his itching hands. <i>Brown? Why are they brown? They’re covered in…fur?</i> He looked closer. No….feathers! Tiny feathers! But….what?! Jolting upright, he stared into the mirror and realized that patches of feathers were starting to grow on his cheeks. Pulling at his shirt, he realized the unexpected feathers were covering his chest as well…and spreading.
Quickly putting two and two together, he reached for the mask and tried to rip it off, but it would not budge. In fact, his efforts to remove it were really starting to hurt even worse than the pain in his feet and the itching sensation that was now rapidly spreading across his body. He tried to feel for the lines where the mask met his face, but was horrified to realize that the lines no longer seemed to be there.
Before he could process this completely and begin to panic, a massive jolt of pain from his feet and a ripping sound forced his attention elsewhere. His shoes had split, revealing that his feet had shifted and mutated into giant yellow bird-like feet. Kicking off the remains of his shoes, he reached down and felt his new digits. His toes had fused together, leaving only three talons on each foot.
Turning his attention back to his hands and chest, the feathers had grown to cover not only that but most of his arms as well. He stared at them in blatant disbelief, before another massive bolt of pain from his back and his posterior caused him to double over in agony. He could feel bones and flesh shifting, and hear fabric tearing, as a massive tail began to push its way through a rip in the seat of his jeans. More pain came from his shoulders and back. Was he growing wings? Wings?! Despite the pain, and the horror, and the panic, he began to think about the possibilities of flight with wings.
As he imagined soaring through the air, the pain started to ease, diminishing to the point where Andrew was able to, shakingly, stand up again, adjusting his jeans so as not to bunch up around his…tail. Okay, that’s gonna take some getting used to. He watched as his half-formed wings suddenly unfolded themselves, and rapidly grew out into a magnificent wingspan, stretching well outside the mirror’s window on himself. He also saw the last remnants of the mask fuse into his face, reaching up and feeling the material morph into soft feathers.
Andrew stared into the mirror stone, and back at him stared an anthro hawk. His eyes, hair, and beard all seemed to have survived intact, and he could recognize most of his face beneath the feathers. He ran his fingers across his chest, marveling at his more muscular figure and the varying colors and patterns of his new feathers, contrasted with the yellow in his beak and feet and the blue remnants of his jeans. He also marveled at the feelings of brand-new body parts – he had wings! They felt strange, and heavy, but also powerful. And they were part of him. He could move them almost like his arms and legs, creating a strange yet familiar sensation. As he worked through the new sensations, he realized that he hadn’t just gained a new body – he had gained new instincts. He realized he knew *exactly* how to fly!
A beeping from the floor snapped him out of his reverie. He bent down, careful not to crush his tail, and pulled out the GPS device from his bag. Oh, so now you’re working? It showed that he was, in fact, only a few miles from the coasts of home. It also showed him in the middle of the ocean. I wonder why nobody’s found this place before? I guess I can’t rule out magic at this point. And only a few miles? Feels like it shouldn’t be too hard to make it. Not sure how I’m gonna explain this, but I’ll figure something out. Extreme plastic surgery? Tarred and feathered? Unexpected dreams fulfilled?
He secured his bag around his waist and turned towards the ruined wall, noting that the sun had finally broken through the clouds. He basked in the warm rays of sunlight for a few moments. Then, he took a few running steps, jumped, and soared into the air. Freedom!