Owen attempted explaining to Daecon:
"When a person does not use a part of their body they can lose the ability to use it. It’s called ‘atrophy’. In simpler terms you can think of it as ‘Use it or lose it’. But it’s rarely permanent, unless loss of use is caused by disease or age. That piano player will quickly regain his skills if he starts playing regularly again, unless his loss of skill was caused by dementia. The body builder will put on muscle mass and regain his strength if he starts lifting weights again. I think your wings are the same way. You have not used them for 25 years. Not only has your body – both your brain and your muscles – forgotten how to work those wings, but it has never really known how to begin with. It’s starting from scratch, just like when you learned to walk as an infant, building the pathways and strengthening the muscles. A person’s mind has a built-in map of his body, and your mind has just discovered a previously unmapped area, kind of like European human settlers discovering North America. It was always there, but they didn’t know about it. Once they discovered it they quickly learned to make use of it. Your mind is now discovering your wings and it’s making the connections. The wings were always there, the brain only just figured that out.”
“I think I understand it now. But why did the wings pop out by themselves when I was falling?”
“Again, they were always there, your conscious brain just didn’t know it. The answer is reflexes. Your brain doesn’t have to be aware of something in order for reflex to kick in. Reflexes are nature’s way of preventing us from really hurting ourselves. They offer a split-second reaction before the brain figures out what’s happening. If you burn yourself you’ll pull your hand away from the flame before your brain processes the situation. If an insect bites you you slap at it without even thinking. Those are examples of reflexes. Your wings did the same thing as you were falling earlier today. You were in danger of dying, and your subconscious mind deployed the wings in order to save you. Unfortunately, your subconscious mind didn’t know how to do anything more than to deploy them. It could not control them, so as soon as your conscious mind took over you fell. Similarly, reflexes caused you to feel pain just now when you landed on them, and reflexes caused you to pull the wing away when I yanked at that feather. That is spectacularly good news! It means that the neural connections are being made!”
Daecon thought about this, and was starting to feel excited. He had one question, though.
“Wait. How could they have always been there? Look at the size of them! How could they have been hiding under the skin on my back all that time!
Owen laughed. “I’d like to be able to explain it fully to you, but that’s above my pay grade. I somewhat know the mechanics of it, but I am unsure of how to explain it. I can say this: It’s a combination of magic and the mundane. A on oversimplified explanation is that they’re inflatable.”
“Inflatable! But how?”
“Have you ever watched a nature film and seen how insect wings work? When the insect emerges from its pupa the wings are tiny and shrivelled. The insect ‘inflates’ them by pumping fluid into them. Your wings work the same way, except that with an insect it can take hours, while for us it is instantaneous. Most of your body works that way, in fact. That’s how I, a relatively small man, can shift into a huge bear. You rode on my back. Didn’t I feel solid to you?”
“Yes, you sure did. I was wondering about that. So you’re basically just a bunch of fluid filled tubes when you’re a bear or bird?”
Owen laughed. “Not exactly, but close. That’s the magical part of the equation, the part that I can’t explain how or why it works because I don’t really know myself. We can inflate and deflate ourselves on the cellular level. Some of us can make ourselves larger, like I do as a bear. Some can make themselves smaller, like a shifter whose alternate animal is a house cat or even a mouse. The magic also takes care of your clothes. When you finally do make your wings disappear your shirt will bear no holes or damage, and when you do a complete transformation your clothes will disappear while you are in animal form. They will reappear when you retake your human form. Don’t try to think of the physics of it; magic does not care about physics.”
“But you just said that my brain has to learn how to use my wings. How does it do that if they’re magic? For that matter, how would I change into a bird or whatever if it’s magic? How does the brain learn that?”
“Once again, you’re going outside of my realm of knowledge. I know the mechanics of it but not the magic behind it. They taught us the very basics of the magic in school, but they didn’t teach us the how or why. I know that our brain controls the fluid that inflates the cells, and I know it does it through magic, but that’s about it. We just think about what we want to be, and we become it. Oh, and I also know that the brain also controls the texture of those cells once inflated – it can make them as hard as bone or as soft as feathers. The ability to do this is hard wired into your brain, as you discovered when you sprouted those wings. This ability has atrophied in you because you went so long without using it, so now you’ve got to teach yourself again how to use that power. I’m thinking that atrophy may be the explanation behind your extra limbs. Your subconscious did not fully know how to do the magic. Now that it is building those pathways you will soon be able to control those wings, and then, eventually, your transformations.”
“I’ll never be able to do that! I wouldn’t know how!”
“Yes, you will. Remember what I told you, about most of our people gaining their abilities before they could even walk? Your brain is already rebuilding the pathways. In just a few hours you’ve already started regaining feeling in them. In a few more I wouldn’t be surprised if you could move them just like you do with your arms and legs. Once you have them fully mastered you’ll have full control over every feather, which will be needed for flight. And after you have using them figured out you can start working on shifting properly.”
Daecon was actually starting to feel a little bit optimistic, even if he didn’t see how he could possibly master the use of wings that he didn’t even know he had. And shifting his whole body into the shape of a bird? That was even more difficult to believe. Still, he had watched Owen do it several times already. Until a few hours ago he never would have imagined any of this would be possible.
Owen reached into a pocket in his brown suit and produced a cell phone. He looked at it and said “Lovely. Just as I had feared, there is no mobile signal here.”
Daecon was impressed. “You have a cell phone?”
“Of course we have mobile phones! We have access to the same technology that humans do. Some of it we actually invented ourselves and shared with humans so that both of our races could benefit. Some of it we make use of, such as the internet, communications technology, television, radio, and the like. Some we do not, such as automobiles, airplanes, et cetera. Why shouldn’t we have technology?”
“Oh, it’s just that in Harry Potter the wizards either can’t or don’t use muggle technology. They use magic.”
Owen rolled his eyes in exasperation. “Again with the Harry Potter nonsense. I have already told you, those books and movies are works of fiction. We are not wizards, Daecon. We have access to a very limited amount of magic and can do very specific things with that magic, but for most things we rely on the same technology that humans do.”
Daecon was disappointed, though he couldn’t put his finger on exactly why. He was going to be able to fly, and make himself invisible, and maybe some other things. Surely that is exciting enough? ‘Hogwarts isn’t real’, he told himself. Then something dawned on him.
“Wait, why don’t you use cars? I love my cars. My little Boxster was my pride and joy, I loved opening it up on a twisty country road...”
“Yes, yes, I’m sure that brought you a great amount of joy, even though you were burning fossil fuel and poisoning the atmosphere to do it. No, don’t feel guilty, you were only doing as the humans do because you were raised among them and know no better, though they are slowly learning. The real reason we do not use mechanical transportation, my dear man, is that we simply have no use for it. You say driving was enjoyable, but that’s because you haven’t experienced flight yet. We can fly faster and further in a given amount of time and get to our destination much quicker than any person in a car can ever hope to. In the right conditions and by playing the wind and air currents right we can maintain speeds of several hundred kilometers per hour for hours on end while exerting very little effort. A commercial aircraft might fly across the Atlantic faster than one of us can, but it’s so stifling, sitting inside a steel tube for that long, and besides, by the time you factor in the time travelling to the airport, waiting around to be boarded, waiting to take off, and then repeating it all and dealing with customs when you land, it’s really not that much faster to go by airplane than to fly naturally.”
“Oh, yeah, I suppose”, Daecon said. “Man, I can’t wait to be able to fly.”
“It will come, it will come”, Owen said as he paced around the cave looking at his phone, trying to find even a single bar. “Damn it, I can’t find a signal anywhere. I would imagine that I’d have to leave the valley to find one...”
“What’s the problem? Who do you need to call so badly?”, Daecon asked.
“Young man, I don’t know whether you fully appreciate the danger you are in right now. If those humans find this cave before you can fully shift, or at the very least, learn how to hide your wings, you will be done for. Imagine what would happen when those searchers enter this cave and discover you sitting in here with those wings growing out of your back!”
“Shit, yeah, I guess it wouldn’t be good, would it?”
“No! If they didn’t kill you on sight out of fear they would haul you off to a laboratory somewhere and dissect you. And don’t think for a moment that they wouldn’t kill you on sight. I think you know how well humans generally handle things they don’t understand.”
“Oh, come on”, Daecon said. “We’re not that bad. We...”
“Not ‘we’”, Owen interrupted. “They. You are not one of them. You never were, really, but now your ever returning to live with them is absolutely impossible.”
"Because you now know that you aren’t one of them, and you’d never be happy trying to go back to what you knew before as ‘normal’. The council of elders would never allow it anyway. You’d be too big a security risk to the rest of us. You’ve also got to consider this: Those men that chased you over the cliff undoubtedly told the police that you flew away. The police surely laughed that off, but what would they think about that story if they discovered you here with wings? It would make the drunks’ stories more believable, wouldn’t it? Now, ask yourself, did those men tell the police the truth, that they were trying to murder you but you tricked their leader into dying along with you and then flew away? Of course not. They probably concocted some story about how you lured him over the cliff somehow, and that they were innocent.”
Daecon suddenly felt an overwhelming urge for revenge. “Those BASTARDS!”, he yelled. “When I get all of this figured out I am going to...”
A sudden look of alarm came over Owen’s face. “Let us get one thing perfectly clear. You are not going to do anything at all to those men. That life, the life you had before, is behind you now. You cannot go back to it. As far as the humans are concerned you died going over that cliff, they just couldn’t find your body, and that is the way it must be.”
“But they tried to kill me! And my car...”
“Your car is a pile of mangled metal at the bottom of that cliff. The car was just a machine, and you will have no use for such machines any longer, I assure you. As for killing you, they did not succeed in doing that, but they have, in a way, given you a second birth, into the life you should have had all along. Mark my words, once you get your shifting sorted out you will be enjoying your new life so much that you will have few fond memories of your past life.”
“I can’t believe that”, Daecon said.
“You will see. Now, I must make a decision. We cannot stay in this cave for ever, because sooner or later they will find it, and if we are in it they will find us. That is not an option, for the reasons I have just discussed with you. I have got to get to an area where I can make a phone call. We need help.”
“Can’t you just turn into a bear and let me ride you further up the mountain? I’m sure there would be a signal at the top”
“I could, but no. I could cloak myself but your bright white wings stand out like a sore thumb, and any helicopter flying over would spot them easily.”
“How about at night?”
“Again, no. They will be using infrared. They will spot your body heat easily from the air.”
“Well shit”, Daecon said. “What are we going to do then?”
Owen paced around the cave muttering to himself. Then he stopped and looked at Daecon.
“What we are going to do is this”, he said. “You are going to stay right here in this cave. Stay well back from the entrance. You are not to leave it under any circumstances. Not even to use the bathroom.”
Daecon suddenly became alarmed. “Wait, what? Where are you going?”
“I am going to shift to bear form, cloak myself, and climb this mountain to the top. If I still don’t have a mobile signal there I will shift to eagle form and fly until I find a tower. Once I have a signal I will phone for help and return as fast as I can.”
“Who are you going to call?”
“My husband”, Owen said. “He knows a good deal more about the magical aspect of shifting than I do, perhaps he can even help you learn how to shift.”
“Your husband? Wait, you’re married?”
“Of course I’m married. Why shouldn’t I be married?”
“I don’t know. I guess I’m just still trying to get used to you all being dudes. Plus, you just don’t strike me as the marriage type.”
“You’ve known me for all of three hours. What ‘type’ did I strike you as?”
“I don’t know... Just forget I said anything. What if your, um, husband can’t teach me how to shift?”
“I guess we’ll cross that bridge as it comes. Now, remember what I said. Do not leave this cave for ANYTHING.”
With that there was a flash of light and the man was gone. The bear that had replaced him stood at the mouth of the cave for a few moments sniffing the air and looking around, then disappeared into the light.