Leander quickly found Owen’s scent and started following it. Soon enough he caught up with Owen, who was close on the trail of the two searchers. “Hold up, Owen”, he whispered.
Owen stopped and waited for Leander. “Hello, my
love!”, he whispered. “What’s going on? Why have you left Daecon?”
“Daecon is fine”, Leander said. “He’s safe in the cave. There have been developments. Daecon now has control over his wings and even took an accidental flight. He was clumsy but he should do well enough that we can fly off this mountain at dawn. We have a new problem though. When Daecon heard those men coming he wisely got out of the cave and hid in a tree. Unfortunately he forgot his cell phone in the cave, and the men found it. They know he was here.”
“Damn it”, Owen cursed. “Oh well, I suppose that
couldn’t have been helped. I’m just glad that he got out of that cave in time.
Had they found him there we would have faced a grim task indeed, but there’s no
harm in them knowing that he was here. By the time they return we’ll all be
“Yes, but there is a slight problem. Shortly before they got his phone he had taken a selfie with it, with his wings exposed.”
“You’re kidding. So those men saw the photo?”
“No, I don’t think so. Daecon said the phone was locked, so they can’t access it. If those men take it to the police, though, they may break into it looking for evidence, and if they do they will see the photo.”
“So we must get that phone back.”
“Yes”, Leander said, “and I have a plan. It’s not much of one, but it’s the best I can do on short notice. Here’s what we must do”.
Meanwhile, back at the cave, Daecon took his other shoe off and paced around a bit, thinking over his first flight and smiling to himself. He was really starting to get the hang of this, even if he still couldn’t completely take his bird form yet. He walked over to the edge of the plateau and stood, looking out over the valley just as he had done just an hour or so before. He could still see the little boats in the valley below.
He thought about spreading his wings, and as soon as the thought entered his mind they appeared and had spread. He could tell the tail feathers had appeared as well. Briefly he considered taking a running jump and flying again, but decided against it. He had told Leander he wouldn’t fly, so he wouldn’t fly. Besides, if he got into trouble in the air without Leander or Owen there to guide him he’d be screwed.
He hid the wings again, almost without thought. He spread them again, then hid them again. This was becoming easy for him – he guessed that those neural pathways Owen had told him about were forging themselves as he had said they would. He walked into the cave and sat down against the wall. There was nothing left to do except wait.
Daecon awakened to the sound of talking outside the cave. He had dozed off and had no idea how long he’d been asleep, but he could tell by the amount of light entering the cave that dawn was approaching. He perked his ears up and listened.
“I bet it’ll be years before those two ever step foot in the forest again”, Leander’s voice said. He was laughing. “I’ve never seen humans run so fast! You were great!”
“Yeah, yeah, except that for the first time ever I’ve let humans see me in my bear form”, Owen replied. “I’m so disappointed in myself.”
“Oh, get over yourself. You did it on purpose, so it’s not like you made a mistake. And as far as those humans were concerned, all they saw was a well fed but cranky old bear.”
Daecon stood up and walked to the cave’s mouth. He rubbed his eyes and looked around. Sitting on one edge of the plateau was what would have normally been a very odd sight: A huge brown bear sitting next to a large black jaguar. The two animals looked very much like they were snuggling as they watched the sun rise. Daecon stood in the cave mouth watching, feeling a strange affection for the very odd couple that was snuggling in front of him.
“Good morning”, he said. The bear raised its head to look at him.
“Good morning”, it said, and rested its head back on the panther. Almost immediately it spun its head back around and said “My God, your wings! They’ve gone!”
“Oh, you mean these wings?” Daecon asked as he spread them back out. “Yeah, I’ve finally figured out how to use them. I can hide them, too. And look: Tail feathers!” he said as he turned around and wagged his ass at the bear, showing off his pure white plumage. He made them vanish again and leaned on the wall of the cave opening. Owen gave him an impressed look. Leander was just staring at him.
“So”, Daecon said casually. “What did you two get up to last night with those two men? Sounds like you had fun.”
Owen started laughing. “It was incredible. We got ahead of them and trashed a clearing in woods, to make it look like there had been a struggle. Leander smeared some rabbit blood around to make it look good. I ripped up your shirt and shredded that shoe, spreading bits of it around, and then went and waited outside of the clearing. As soon as those men entered the clearing I lunged out and started roaring at them, with a piece of your shirt hanging out of my mouth. I was really quite convincing, too, though I say so myself. Those men thought I was going to eat them. I swear the blood drained out of their bodies.”
Daecon chuckled. “So what happened? What about the dogs?”
Owen was still chuckling. “At first sight of me those dogs bolted for safety. I would have told them not to worry, that I wasn’t there for them, but there was no time. They had no thoughts about saving their masters though. They disappeared into the woods baying like their lives depended on it.”
“Wait”, Daecon interrupted. “You would have told them? The dogs? You can do that?”
“Oh, yes”, Owen said. “When in animal form we can communicate with some animals. Nothing complicated, mind you – they really are dumb animals, after all – but we can make them understand basic things.”
“Wait! I think I did it last night! I thought I
could understand what the dogs were saying when they didn’t want to go into the
cave, and when I asked them to leave me alone they looked directly at me and
moved away. I thought I was just going crazy! I wasn’t in animal form, though.”
Owen looked surprised. “Oh? Was this before or after you figured out how to hide your wings?”
Daecon thought for a moment. “After. I had woken up and went outside to pee. I know you warned me to stay in the cave, but I just couldn't bring myself to piss inside. It's a good thing I went outside, too, otherwise I wouldn't have heard those men. When I realized they were coming I cursed my wings only to realize they were gone. I climbed the tree to hide from them, and the wings were still gone when I spoke to the dogs. They didn’t come back until I was ready to jump out of the tree and go after the men.”
“Interesting”, Owen said as he considered this. “Well, usually we can’t speak to animals while in human form, but anything is possible, I guess.”
Daecon was getting excited. “So we can talk to animals, kind of like Doctor Doolittle?”
Leander, who had been staring silently and oddly at Daecon during the whole conversation, started to say something, but Owen interrupted him. “Just say yes. Believe me, it’s easier.”
Daecon gave Owen a dirty look, then realized that he was scowling at a bear that was several times larger than himself and had to laugh at the absurdity of it all.
Leander spoke up, still staring at Daecon. “No, it’s not that, Owen. It’s his eyes. You didn’t tell me about his eyes.”
“What?”, the bear asked as it turned around to look at Daecon again. “Why should I have mentioned his eyes, they... Oh my God, what’s happened to your eyes?!?!”
Daecon was alarmed. “What? What’s wrong with my eyes?
Owen had stood up on his hind legs and walked to Daecon. In his bear form he was towering, so he stooped down and looked very closely at Daecon’s face. Leander had shifted back into human form and was standing beside the bear, also carefully examining Daecon’s face.
Instinctively, Daecon backed away. “What is wrong with you two? What’s the big deal about my eyes? They feel perfectly fine to me. In fact, better than ever, I’ve noticed that I can see much better now. I just thought that was because...”
Owen shifted into human form as well now, and the two men were still staring at Daecon.
Owen looked sideways at Leander and then began: “Oh! Nothing’s wrong with them. Nothing at all! It’s just that yesterday they were both dark blue, and now they’re...”
“Odd, yeah”, Daecon said. “I already told you that they’re oddly coloured. What about it? It freaks people out, so I’ve been wearing contacts to cover them up for years. You told me that it’s normal among Shifters to have oddly coloured eyes so I figured that I wouldn’t need them anymore with you and I took them out last night. Don’t tell me it freaks you guys out too! I’d have thought, what with changing into animals, you wouldn’t be grossed out by oddly coloured eyes.”
Leander looked shocked. “What? No! We don’t find them
offensive at all! It’s just that Owen hadn’t mentioned the red...”
"Well, the red has always been there too", Daecon explained. "I've always thought it was kind of cool, but don't tell me they're a problem or something!"
“No no", Owen interrupted while giving Daecon a strange look. "There is nothing wrong with them. It’s just that I was surprised because they were both dark blue yesterday. Plain blue. It was just a bit of a shock, that’s all.”
Daecon felt like Owen and Leander were hiding something from him. They were looking at him in a strange new way, and it was bugging him. Even though they had said they weren’t bothered, they were certainly acting like they were.
Owen cleared his throat. “Right, then. We have no time to lose. We must get out of here as quickly as possible.”
“Wait”, Daecon said, almost glad to divert attention away from his eyes. “You still haven't told me what you got up to last night. What about the men? The ones you chased away?”
“Well,” Owen continued, “as soon as the dogs bolted, the men dropped everything they were carrying and started hugging each other and crying. I’m fairly certain that one of them defecated, I could smell it. Anyway, I stood up on my hind legs and started menacing them. It was all I could do to keep a straight face, I wanted to start laughing. They were paralyzed with fear, so I got back down onto all fours, walked to within a few inches, and let out a roar like they’ve never heard. They screamed and ran off like lightning. I gave chase, just running fast enough that they stayed ahead of me. I herded them back to the lake and watched them get into their boat. The dogs were already sitting in it! As they were pulling away from the shore I ran down onto the beach and let a final roar out of me.”
Daecon was puzzled. “Ok, I can see why you chased them away, but why did you shred my clothes?”
“You haven’t guessed? It was to make them think that the bear had found you on the shore of the lake and dragged you off and ate you.”
An expression of disgust came over the Owen’s face as he turned to Leander. “I still can’t believe I let you talk me into that dumb idea.”
“Yes, well, I didn’t see you coming up with anything better”, Leander said.
“I know, I know. I just can’t believe I had to act like that.”
“What, like a bear? You’re a bear, Owen. It won’t kill you to act like one once in a while.”
“Remember that when I dig out the laser pointer, pussy cat...”
“Oh, but I would.”
The couple started laughing, leaving Daecon scratching his head. “Wait”, he said. “If they think I was eaten by a bear, won’t they come hunting for the bear?”
“Absolutely”, Leander said. “I would be very surprised if they came back here today without being armed. They won’t find one, though, and they also won’t find you. The important thing is that they’ll now have a plausible reason for not finding you. By the way...” he reached into his coat pocket. “I believe this is yours.”
“My phone! You got it back!”
“Yes. As soon as Owen scared those men away I ran in and grabbed the phone. They had dropped it, along with their flashlights, as soon as they saw him. Now they have no photo of you and your wings. The battery is fully dead now, so don’t try to turn it on. We’ll have to pull the sim card out and throw it away before you can power it up again anyway, so they can’t use your phone’s locator to find you. As far as they are concerned the last place that phone was powered was in this cave. They’ll just think those two idiots lost it in the woods last night.”
“But if they know it was in the cave...”
“They already know it was in this cave. And they will be back, probably within two hours. We have to make this look like a regular old bear cave, and we have to make ourselves scarce. Now excuse me, I’ve got to go get something I left in that tree last night.”
The man changed into an owl again and took off. He fluttered up to the tree, landed in it, picked something up in his beak, and flew back down. The thing he had picked up was a large duffel bag.
“Ok, here are the clothes I brought for you.”, he said as he changed back into a man. “You can go into the cave to change if you want privacy. Do it quickly, I will need your old clothes.”
“You will see. Come on, quickly now. Once those two tell their story to the others the whole search party will be here on this side of the lake.”
Daecon picked up the clothes that Leander had extracted from the duffel bag and went into the cave to change. He discovered a white collared T-shirt and a pair of blue denim cargo shorts, along with a pair of rugged looking white sneakers. He put them on and walked out of the cave.
“Fetching”, said Leander as he looked at Daecon. “I knew white would look good on you after Owen said that you had white wings. Now, let’s have your old clothes, please.”
Daecon handed him his pants and the one remaining sock and sneaker. Leander then handed the items to Owen, who had reverted to bear form. “Now, Owen, if you please...”
Owen took the clothes into his large paws, walked into the cave, and started tearing them apart. After the clothes were sufficiently shredded he rolled around in the sand inside the cave and made a point of leaving several large bear prints in conspicuous areas, then walked out and sat down next to Daecon.
“Now we just need one more thing”, Leander said.
“What’s that?” Daecon asked.