Ch 5

When Artha next sought wakefulness, it felt like he was buried beneath pounds and pounds of wool. His limbs felt heavy and even his eyelids were weighted down with the heaviness of fatigue. There was also a dull throbbing echoing from one side of his body to the other. His very skin tingled as he breathed.

When Artha tried to open his eyes, he was met with a mess of colors, blurring and dancing across his vision wildly. Artha squinted and belt something click into place as what appeared to be a see-through film swept sideways across his eye. The colors focused into shapes, turning into the comforting beige of the room he was in. Artha was laying on his stomach staring at the blank wall in front of him, limbs spread out asunder. Oddly enough, the room was fully lit, despite the overhead light being turned out.

Artha swallowed, trying to clear his throat. "Dad," Artha called, or at least that's what he tried to do. Instead, some kind of garbled warble left his mouth.

Artha tried to bring his hand up to rub his face, only to smack himself in the face with a black and gold mass. Artha blinked, trying to make his eyes refocus on what he must have been holding. But, the image stayed the same, a massive black and gold clawed paw.

Another strangled cry erupted from Artha as he began to thrash in a panic, finally catching sight of the rest of his body.

His torso was sleek and black with gold accents, leading to powerful looking hind legs, each equipped with sharp talons on the paws. A massive tail flipped out behind him, unnatural and alien in sensation.

Artha kept screaming, his voice a hideous bugle, as he tried in some way to move away, to somehow flee from himself. He didn't get far before he heard the door slide open. In the doorway stood his father and Artha felt himself instantly calm. His father would fix this. Dad could do anything.

"Artha," said Connor Penn. "Artha, calm down. It's alright. This is expected. Remember, I told you this would happen earlier, you just need to calm down."

Connor knelt beside Artha's large head, cradling the dragon's head in his hands as he stroked Artha's brow comfortingly. Connor gently checked Artha over as he intermittently soothed him. From muzzle to tail tip, Artha's dragon form was a wonder. He had a sleek, smooth build with coiled muscles adorning every inch of his frame. This dragon was obviously a fighter, very fit; every racer's dream mount.

Connor sighed when his was done checking Artha over. Nothing was out of place, not missing or extra limbs. Not that missing or extra limbs were normal, but Connor had read a few horror stories about what happens when a dragon booster is only able to shift partially for one reason or another.

"Alright," murmured Connor, "Let's get you moved over to your cushion, son."

Artha whined, his whole body, even the new parts of it, hurt terribly. Beyond that, Artha was a dragon now! He had no idea how to use these limbs that had mutated from his own arms and legs. And that cushion was on the other side of the room! At some point while Artha was unconscious, he had writhed his way off of it.

"Come on, now. You can do it," said Connor, moving his hands to support Artha's head and shoulders as he tried to help Artha stand up. "Ease up there, now."

Artha tried. But his front legs shook from the strain and the pain and he couldn't get his hind legs to do what he wanted them to at all. They bent at strange angles and the most he could get them to do was rabbit scoot with them.

They did manage to settle Artha on the cushion eventually, but it was a while in coming. Artha panted, exhausted from even that small effort. How many times had he walked effortlessly- on two legs!- across the same distance without a single difficulty? Why did he have to be like this? Would he ever turn back?

"Alright," said Connor. " Now all that's left to do is wait this out, son. This won't be like one of your normal transformations. Your normal transformations, once you train enough to enter them, will be effortless and swift. This, being caused by the constellation's alignment, isn't natural. Your body is being forced to take the shape of a dragon, hence the pain of the shift and how weak you're probably feeling right now."

Artha rumbled in the back of his throat, distressed. Normal transformations? He would be doing this again?!

"The constellation lasts under 12 hours. After that, you will shift back to human form. During those 12 hours though, you're going to need to lay low. Lucky for you, we have an entire stable of only dragons and your brother. You're pretty safe here."

Connor gently rubbed his hand over Artha's neck spines to comfort him. "I know it's not easy, kiddo. But, you just have to wait it out for the next 12 hours. Which may be easier than you think. I did happen to pick this up at the store for you."

Connor pulled a case from his jacket, showing it to Artha's miserable eyes. Across the cover, various dragon racers adorned the cover, with one massive drake looming in the background. 'Dragon of the Rings, the Complete Trilogy' was scrawled at the top. Artha's eyes lit up happily and he hummed a happy note, craning his head to take in the movie he had been begging for during the past few months.

Maybe being stuck in a safe room for the day wouldn't be too bad? Connor wasn't even going to make him share with Lance. Actually, Dad had made no mention of the little rat the whole time. Where was Lance?

Artha looked back up to his dad's face, and cooed in a questioning tone. He turned his muzzle to the door, hoping Connor got the memo.

Connor looked towards the door before glancing back to Artha. "Something bothering you, son?"

Artha warbled softly again, nudging his dad's shoulder. How do you communicate when you don't have a voice and you don't even have hands?

This might be tricky, thought Artha. He tossed his head and tapped the ground with a massive clawed paw twice. Where is child # 2, Dad?

Connor Penn tilted his head, still confused. Artha sighed and shook his head. Surely Dad would remember to get Lance a sitter or send him to stay with Parm, right? Artha dipped his muzzle to tap the dvd case. Either way, he didn't have a way to get his Dad to understand what he was asking, may as well spend the day watching movies. Artha's whole body ached, it wasn't like he was going anywhere.

On the other side of the Penn Stable compound…

"Dad? Artha! Come on, this isn't funny anymore. I don't like this game!" Lance yelled, glaring around the stables. Where could they have gone?

First Artha went missing, sometime during Dad's seminar, and now, once all the professional riders had left, Dad was gone, too. Well, snag-dag it! It was time to clean the back corral and it was Artha's turn. Beau was going to start getting antsy, too. Dad had left him mid scrub down, still tethered outside his stall.

They had to be here, neither one had left and it wasn't like there was a secret passage in the stable. It was too newly constructed and it didn't have any bookshelves that revolved. Lance turned and walked back to the house. He would check inside again…. they had to be somewhere…