My spirit suddenly trembled, and for just a moment I thought my hold on the owl body would break. Nearby, the harpy eagle body that was Eleri let out a mournful wail that even the wind could not swallow. Though the dragon below me did not falter, I knew Mama had felt it as well; her sprit shivered loud enough for me to hear it, to feel it within myself.
I recovered, head spinning. What was that?
The dragon screamed, and Mama answered, I don’t know. Stay close to Eleri, just in—
Then it came again, before she had a chance to finish.
The pain struck first.
It was pain that I could never have imagined—pain that stabbed my heart and burned my bones. My vision blackened; I no longer felt the glacial wind ruffling through my feathers.
And then it happened.
With as much warning as a hiccup in time, I was thrown from my false body.
For just a moment, we were suspended in time, and I could see everything with such perfect clarity.
Eleri had been pushed back into her body; her long hair streamed behind her as she fell like the licking tendrils of a fire’s shadow. Mama still wore her dragon skin, but her wings had gone limp; Morwenna was little more than a blotch of polished copper amidst bronze scales and a flat grey sky.
In the moment before time resumed, the whole world was quiet, and realization slowly crushed me—
I was trying to fly on clipped wings.
Time continued, as it always did, and our descent began. Wind screamed past us as we plummeted, stealing the voices and breath from our lungs. The snowy ground was so far away, and yet with each passing second it came closer, and the teeth of the mountains opened and laughed at us.
The glacial wind bit my naked flesh; I grimaced against the pain of it, and the lingering aftershocks of the pain that had thrown us. Elbowing aside the fear that gripped me, I spat out Gabalic words that would at least keep me warm before I died. As soon as the words left my lips, the pain struck again, as strong and sharp as the first time.
Panic clenched my heart, and I tried again. My spirit was there, healthy and whole, but something was stopping it from working. The pain was too great for the magi to flow unimpeded.
My wings were clipped, and I was freefalling into clouds and mountains that would sooner laugh than save me.
Eleri tumbled past me, helpless against gravity. I saw her through teary eyes, and my mother’s command flashed through my mind. I was to stay close to Eleri, just in case. Even if our magic was stunted, I had a better chance of battling through the pain and saving us, because of my training and Gabalic.
The dragon screamed again, and I barely saw Mama struggle to open her wings and catch the wind. I shook my whipping hair out of my eyes and spotted Eleri once more, falling so close to the thrashing dragon tail. Mama didn’t seem to know that Eleri was there, and Eleri was unable to push herself away from the spines and scales to save herself.
Gasping for air in the cold and wind, I faced the elf and pulled my limbs close to my body. I rocketed through empty space and reached out. My fingers grazed Eleri’s pale arm—and I spotted for the first time the grey scales that crept up her legs and back.
I recoiled and almost let go of her arm. The cool touch of her flesh reminded me of our situation, and fear was stronger than disgust. I grabbed tight her wrist and pulled her close, so our bodies pressed together and our hair tangled into one whipping braid, like dusty coal veined with gold.
And we fell.
Together, we shot past the struggling dragon. The ground came closer and closer, so close I could see the divots in the hillsides and creases in the snow, and Eleri buried her face in the crook of my neck.
I gritted my teeth and pulled my spirit to the surface. Pain shot through me, jagged and hot, but I fought past it and spat the words into the wind. The spell was weaker than I needed it to be, but it still worked, and the blast of psychokinesis sent leaves and snow scattering, and slowed our descent.
Despite my efforts, we crashed into the snow bank with enough force to blacken my vision once more. The snow exploded around us as we landed, and rocks and branches ripped into our flesh.
But we were alive.