Chapter 8 – Preclusion of Choice
The space surrounding Solonn was utterly silent and utterly dark but far from still, anything but empty. Rushing through this lightless, ethereal plane, a stream of pure power surged like a river. It carried the most wonderful feeling along its current, an almost inebriatingly sweet familiarity that embraced the very core of his being, comforting and revitalizing him as it flowed freely all around him.
This was the raw, elemental power of ice, and he reveled in its direct presence and contact. He could not see it, but he recognized it for what it was in the surest and most ingrained way. His mind floated in pure contentment, free from distracting thoughts as he hovered effortlessly there, motionless, feeling the very essence of his mother element rushing over him.
Subtly, imperceptibly at first, the elemental stream began to pick up speed as it flowed. The glalie in the midst of it noticed the acceleration with a delay, initially regarding it with only a mild curiosity, still very deeply engrossed in his unity with the power of ice. True concern for the change in the energy stream’s behavior set in and quickly grew as he found the current continuing to flow faster and faster—soon, it was rushing by so swiftly that he could barely register its caress over his bare hide as it flowed past.
That concern made a shift toward first fear and then panic as Solonn found the elemental stream now moving with such speed that he couldn’t feel it at all anymore. No longer was it merely flowing alongside him—it seemed to be rushing
away from him now, leaving him behind.
No! No, come back! he tried to call out as the last of the flowing energy passed him by, giving him barely the time to note its departure as it hurried to some distant, invisible point far beyond him. But his cry was completely in vain; in this place, it seemed that he had no voice. All at once, he found himself suspended helplessly in empty space, the life-sustaining flow of elemental power having drained out and dried up completely from his surroundings.
The utmost vulnerability in which he was left compelled him to howl in terror despite his voicelessness, his futile screams heard by no one, not even himself. His mind was so besieged by panic that he couldn’t even begin to imagine how this could be happening, how his mother element could abandon him like this. The only notion that seemed able to remain intact within his mind—and with a brutal vividness—was the knowledge that separation from his element meant certain death. A glalie who fell from the arms of ice simply could no longer be. His element had left him behind in nothingness—without it, he knew, he would soon become a part of that nothingness.
His mind was beginning to splinter in earnest as he made his final, seemingly hopeless appeals for salvation, pleading voicelessly to the multitude of gods, calling out to the very heart of the universe, begging for his survival and safe return to the embrace of his element unto anyone, anything, that could possibly hear his desperate prayer. Soon, however, it became all to clear to him that his severance from his element, his life, would not be mended. Oblivion would consume him—it had already begun to do so.
He almost didn’t feel it when something disturbed the emptiness around him, something foreign, indiscernible. Just as soon as he had noticed it, before he could even begin to perceive its true nature clearly, a strange, pacifying wave emanated from whatever it was and engulfed his mind completely.
All will be fine, it seemed to tell him.
Do not be concerned.
The suggestion came as gently as could be, but also as irresistibly as was possible. Perhaps it was death; perhaps it was salvation; perhaps it was something entirely beyond reckoning. Whatever it was, its consoling command was obeyed without resistance. The glalie slipped away from all further thought and sensation without a care.
* * *
The most vague notions of awakening crept into Solonn’s mind, just out of grasp of his full consciousness. Unhurriedly, he began to reconnect to his senses, and before fully awakening, with his eyes still closed and his consciousness liable to slip right back into sleep at any moment, he decided and attempted to rise up.
Still only minimally awake and emerging very slowly from what had been the deepest sleep that he had ever known, Solonn felt something only marginally resembling concern. He thought he had just commanded himself to rise up from the floor and into the air; perhaps, he considered in a detached way, he had not sent the order to his body after all. So, he tried once more to lift off…
…And failed again.
As his mind unmuddled and awakened even further, Solonn felt a burgeoning panic, one that spiked when the notion finally hit him: I can’t get up!
With a delay, his eyes opened to a view of the ceiling, where a plant hung in a basket directly above him, a number of leafy tendrils spilling over the basket’s rim to dangle toward the floor. The picture his eyes presented seemed strangely dull to him, lacking in definition and color. He began blinking rapidly, trying to clear out whatever was hazing his vision. At the same time, he set about continuing to try and ascend, but his body still didn’t respond; it was as if it didn’t even understand the instructions that he was giving it.
His ears filled with the sound of pounding blood as his heart began racing. Why can’t I get up?!
He tried, to very little avail, to calm himself enough to make sense of things. It seemed that while his mind had almost fully awakened, his body was having an unusually difficult time following suit. The thought occurred to him that maybe it would have an easier time responding to an order to execute a simpler, less demanding action. He decided to give up on trying to ascend into the air for the time being and instead just concentrate on getting off of his back and sitting upright and face-forward.
This demand, it seemed, was not too extravagant for his body to carry out in its strangely compromised state. However, as it did so, Solonn found himself stricken by a very unusual sensation; as his face pitched forward, he felt something seeming to cinch together in the vicinity of his abdomen—almost a bending
sensation, as if at a waist, which was something that he did not have.
And yet, he did
He cried out in disbelief at the sight that met his eyes once he had succeeded in sitting up, a brutally unreal picture that told him in the most blunt manner possible how it was that his body had bent in a fashion that should not be possible. There before him, he saw a pair of long, pale-skinned legs ending in five-toed feet. And unless his mind was playing a very cruel trick on him—it had to be, he told himself silently in a repeating loop—those limbs were his
No… no, this can’t be real… I’m still dreaming; I’ve got to be…
Solonn was almost able to believe that conclusion—almost
. Swallowing against a hard knot of dread that had built up in his throat, he stared intently at one of the feet and, hoping and expecting in equal measures that the effort would fail, he willed it to move.
It moved right on command.
He screamed, flailing madly as he half-jumped, half-scuttled backwards in horrified surprise. In his futile attempt to escape from his own feet, the back of his head connected very sharply with a corner of the small table near which he had fallen asleep. He exclaimed wordlessly at the pain as it exploded across the inner surface of his skull. There was no doubt about it: the pain was real. Though Solonn wished dearly that it weren’t so, it seemed that reality was determined to literally beat the truth into his head. This was not a dream. This was really happening. Somehow, impossibly, he had become human
He swooned in a sudden wave of weakness and slumped backwards against the side of the nearby armchair, panting. A growing ache awakened in his chest as his heart continued hammering in sheer, animalistic terror. Disarrayed thoughts and frenzied, tangled emotions raced through his mind. He felt as though he might pass out from the bewildering shock at any moment and would have been all too grateful to do so, but in an almost sadomasochistic way, his brain stayed conscious and forced him to suffer along with it as it continued to torture itself with this bizarre new reality.
Though he desired very
strongly not to do anything of the sort, a cruel compulsion forced him to look upon himself, to force-feed the surreal image of what he had become into his brain. Unwilling eyes swept over the form of the tall, lanky body that was now his own.
This was the first time that he had ever seen a human body unclothed. In the same stark, tactless fashion that everything else about the situation had shown itself to him thus far, Solonn was made to recognize that he was, at least, still male, and the way by which he determined this left him mortified both for his own sake and that of an entire species. Good gods, they keep that
This body was more than just very strange to him—it was wrong
. He should not have
this; he should not be
this. He should be a glalie, a creature of the element of ice… but that element was no longer there for him. He tried to reach it again, some part of him desperately hoping that in doing so he could somehow return to his true form, but he felt nothing at all of his mother element’s embrace.
He moaned, not at the throbbing, shooting pain that still lingered in his head but rather at the severance from his beloved element. He felt his anguish seem to swell in his chest and then well up behind his eyes until they could hold it in no longer, and thus he cried for the very first time in his life.
Several minutes after the fact, he finally noticed that there was something damp at the site of the impact on the back of his head, and he gave a small, mournful sound at the new, unpleasant sensation; it was just one more thing to further deny him the option of pretending this whole situation away and dismissing it as some dream or hallucination or other lie of the mind. Shaking, he glanced down at his hands as they lay limply at his sides; then, only half-aware of what he was doing, he lifted one of them to the back of his head. He recoiled at the warm stickiness he found there amidst the hair. He then brought that hand before his face, and he felt his throat go dry at what he saw. Though his vision was presently blurred slightly, he could still make out the blood that was smeared across the tips of his fingers—blood that was red
and not at all evanescent. Human blood for a human body—which he should not have
Solonn closed his eyes and tried to retreat into the corners of his consciousness, thoroughly overwhelmed. He could not even remotely fathom how such a thing could have possibly happened to him, nor could he even begin to think of what he should do under these circumstances.
Sighing, he allowed his eyes to open once more, conceding to the fact that he would not be given the mercy of release from his awareness of this situation. He turned his head and let it sink listlessly to his left shoulder, faintly regarding a number of long, black strands of hair that fell across his face. Through them, he saw the little table at his side, on which there sat a small, flat, black box.
A course of action occurred to him as he recalled the little device’s function: he didn’t know what to do about the situation that had befallen him, but perhaps Jal’tai would. Solonn could think of no one else available from whom to seek any possible solutions. He reached up toward the device and pulled it down toward himself. He turned it over in his hands for a moment as he tried to retrieve the memory of how to operate it. Voice-activated
, he then remembered. You tell it what to do.
With another few seconds’ perusing of his mind, he recalled the instructions that he was to give it.
He looked upon the large speaker that dominated one surface of the strange paging device; seeing no other prominent feature on it, he figured that this was the part of it to which he was to direct his command. He took a deep breath, trying to get a hold of himself long enough to do what he intended to do here in spite of the toll that this turn of events had taken on his mental state, then spoke his intentions to the little black machine.
“Page,” he said almost breathlessly, and he felt his throat constrict as soon as the word had escaped it. Aside from the slight alteration caused by the fact that his nose was a bit congested at the time, his new voice sounded exactly like the one he had possessed as a glalie. It was an oddity that confounded and anguished him. He still sounded like himself—why, he wondered, couldn’t he still be himself in every other way?
There was a small beep
, and a tiny, green light turned on beside the speaker. “Please state the name and room number of the one you are paging,”
the device said in the same computerized voice that the transport device outside the suite had used.
“Jal’tai,” Solonn answered hoarsely, “room 44-B.” He dearly hoped that he had remembered that number correctly.
“One moment please…”
the device said.
Solonn held his breath as he waited for a response. Thankfully, it seemed that his mind had successfully retained the correct number for Jal’tai’s room, for after several seconds: “Yes? Is there something you need?”
Jal’tai’s familiar, kindly voice came through the speaker.
“Oh yes,” Solonn responded shakily, his voice charged with urgency, “yes, there is.”
Jal’tai clearly had no trouble detecting the distress in Solonn’s voice. There was a brief pause, then, “What’s the matter?”
Solonn strongly doubted that Jal’tai would believe the answer to that question. “Can’t explain,” he replied hurriedly. “Just need you here now. Please hurry.”
Another pause. “Yes… yes, of course. I’ll be right up,”
Jal’tai said finally.
said the computerized voice of the device then. The beep
sounded again, and the green light turned off.
Solonn set the paging device down on the floor beside him and released a long, weary sigh. All he could do now was wait for Jal’tai to show up—even if he only had seconds to wait, he was not sure that he could endure it. He was fully aware of how nearly every muscle in his body trembled in anxiety, his hands shaking like leaves, with tiny yet powerful twitches tugging and pricking at the skin around his eyes and mouth. Vaguely, he wondered if he might not lose this body just as soon as he’d come by it, for it seemed to be threatening to shake itself to pieces.
As the seconds crept slowly by, he stared forward blankly, barely blinking, at one of the suite’s draconic statues that sat a couple of yards away. It lay on its marble pedestal with its tapered wings outstretched and its taloned forearms crossed in front of it and gazed sightlessly back at Solonn with a look of absolute serenity. Solonn could only futilely wish that he were in a position to return a matching expression to the smiling stone figure.
A voice sounded then, startling Solonn in his compromised state, pulling his attention at once from the statue of the dragon pokémon. “Solonn? Are you all right in there?” It was Jal’tai. “May I come in now?” the swellow asked him through the wall.
“Please do,” Solonn called back shakily.
“Of course, of course… just give me a moment here…” Jal’tai responded.
A tone sounded within the suite shortly thereafter. “Prepare to receive a visitor,”
the computerized voice said calmly. Solonn turned toward the wall separating the suite from the hall outside. A second later, a shimmering, pale green field of light appeared within the suite, forming above a tile that matched the one outside, then solidified into the form of Jal’tai, who stood there in front of the wall with a concerned look leveled at Solonn. If he was at all shocked or surprised to behold a human where there should have been a glalie, he did not show it.
Without a word, Jal’tai walked over to where Solonn half-sat, half-lay. He stopped before the former glalie, ruffled his wings and folded them tightly against his back, and gave him a long, unflinching look, his face taking on an expression that was difficult for Solonn to quite interpret.
Already disturbed to no small degree by what had befallen him, Solonn found himself unnerved further by the way the swellow’s steely raptor’s eyes took in his new form—his naked
Solonn inhaled sharply in sudden mortification. This was one detail which he had overlooked—now Jal’tai was getting an unobstructed view of something that Solonn wouldn’t show to anyone under normal circumstances, not even to those of his own kind. Feeling the blood rush to his face in a hot wave of embarrassment, Solonn repositioned himself hastily to cover his shame.
“Relax, relax,” Jal’tai said coolly. “It’s nothing I haven’t seen before. After all—” He paused briefly to take a breath, his gaze shifting to Solonn’s eyes and sharpening further. “—it was I who designed that very body for you.”
That took a very
long moment to fully register in Solonn’s brain. For a moment, he forgot to breathe. He gave the swellow a stupefied stare.
Jal’tai nodded. “It’s true, Solonn.”
The human’s stare went flat. For countless seconds on end, he made no response whatsoever, frozen in the moment. Then he inhaled very slowly, very deeply.
“Why?” he asked, his voice constrained so badly that it was distorted almost beyond recognition. “Why… and how
… in the fires of a thousand hells… did you turn me into a human
Jal’tai closed his eyes and lowered his head. “Yes,” he said soberly, “you are owed an explanation for all this. It’s imperative that you be made to fully understand the situation. I will address your question of ‘how’ first, since that comes with the shorter answer. To begin to answer that question, however, I must start by being more honest with you with regards to the matter of who—and what—I truly am.”
The swellow suddenly took to the air without warning, hovering in place to Solonn’s right and slightly above him. “Don’t be frightened by what I’m about to show you,” Jal’tai said, his words accompanied by the sound of his steadily beating wings, “for it is my true form. I am and shall still be the same person in spirit that I have shown myself to be while in your presence up to this point.”
Solonn could only stare mutely at him, watching as the air around Jal’tai began to ripple and shimmer, blurring the swellow’s form. Soon, Jal’tai completely lost definition, becoming nothing more than a wavering mass of faint light. The light then intensified and began to take shape once more. When it faded away a second later, the swellow was gone. In his place was something very different, something blue and pale gray that, though still feathered, was no longer a bird.
Jal’tai was now a dragon.