Domin's wing was stuck.
This almost never happened. In fact, he didn't think it happened at all. What were the odds? He'd been flying for over a hundred years, could boast that feat to the world, and what did he have to show for those years of experience? A useless wing stuck in a bush. If he pulled, the thorns on which his wings were caught pulled at the tendons and definitely felt… just awful, really. Damn that owl for flying him out of the sky!
Another puzzling echo reached him, and his ears twitched forward.
Was that Flynn?
Crouching on hind legs, Domin opened his jaw and released another strong sound pulse, hopefully strong enough for Sands and Flynn to sense it and know that he was trying to reach them. Sands had called for him again a moment ago, a panicked echo that disrupted the quiet of the night, and Domin didn't know what to think. Were the humans attacking? He couldn't hear the humans from this distance, but the possibility remained. The two creatures hadn't seemed hostile, but Domin didn't know enough about humans to dismiss the notion that they could be. The noises coming from the research building five minutes north didn't even sound natural, and they worried him more than he cared to admit. Not even a minute before he'd heard what sounded like Flynn's soft tenor, growling something without words. Flynn didn't growl like a beast, just like he didn't make it a habit to encounter near-death-by-owl experiences, to fall from the sky to avoid it, and to land right in a thorn bush. These things just did not happen.
Only tonight, apparently, they did.
Simultaneous occurrences that weren't supposed to occur unsettled Domin. If only he'd been paying better attention to the skies and less attention to the sounds, he might have seen that vicious owl with claws extended, diving toward him with fluttering wings. He might have ducked behind a tree in time, might have avoided the painful piercing of a few sharp thorns. He might have been able to reach Sands and Flynn in time to stop Flynn from making such strange noises. Domin, he hated to think, could have prevented everything.
Another echo arrived, this one boding much better for him, and after another second a small bat came into view in the night, leather wings outstretched and eyes scanning the area as it searched for Domin on the ground. Domin perked up his head and echoed again, straight at his little rescuer, who turned directly toward him at the sound. With a squawk, the bat glided toward the thorn bush and landed near Domin, hopping closer until both bats were nose to nose and eye to eye. Domin breathed through his nose at the look. Of course. The bat to find him would have to be none other than Orson himself. He'd been hoping for a youngling, considering the bat's size. But no. Of course not. Tonight, nothing could progress smoothly. And to add insult to injury, the damnable Orson bared his fangs and stayed still, not yet moving to assist, and Domin could do nothing but submit, stretching out his neck and waiting for the telltale prick of discomfort.
Could the night get any worse?
Afterward, Orson hopped back, tongue licking around his mouth as if trying to disinfect it from the touch, and spread both wings out until they could spread no further. He paused there for a moment, concentrating, little bat face screwed up into distaste as he did so, and after a heartbeat and cricket chirp, the form elongated, wings lengthening to arms, claws shortening to nails, fuzzy fur thinning into hair, until at last Orson towered over him, leering. He looked defensive, with arms crossed and lips pressed into a thin line. Domin squawked.
"Never would I have expected," Orson's chest rumbled as he spoke, "to start the night hunting and end it by coming across you, of all colleagues, in need of my… assistance. And of all nights, when Sands has been calling for you for at least four minutes now, you choose tonight to laze about in the dark and whine."
Domin would have scowled if he'd been able.
If Orson were just a bit closer, he'd have nibbled a bit, as well.
As it was, Domin tugged at his wing instead.
"But," Orson continued, crouching down and reaching into the bush to finally provide the assistance Domin had had to exchange his pride to attain. "I suppose I should have expected nothing more from a pitiful, treacherous cur like yourself. And you call Sands one of your dear friends? I'd hate to see how you treat the ones you hate."
As soon as Orson's hands broke the twig that bound him and picked the thorns out of his wing with rough, coarse movements – either uncaring that Domin winced with every removal or delighting in it, Domin wasn't sure which – but as soon as the bastard finished, Domin transformed himself much faster than Orson had, cursing all the while and immediately running north while he held his injured arm to his chest. In his hurry to change, he accidentally struck Orson in the stomach with an elbow, and Orson hissed an insult through clenched teeth. Domin forced himself not to pay it any attention. Sands and Flynn mattered more than arguing and getting into it with Orson at the moment, but he couldn't resist calling back as he ran, "At least I have dear friends!"
Not exactly how he should have acted, considering he'd just submitted to the fiend, but he'd worry about that later. Domin needn't worry; Orson would do enough of that for the both of them. Sands called again, right then, when Domin passed by a blur of scenery in a race to arrive at the research center.
A few yards away.
And then just one.
No one else was out at this time, at least not around these parts. Most of the island was probably with the cattle or hunting, or making love in their nests, or just flying and enjoying the stretch after a long day of sleeping. Some, undoubtedly, were reading, and others practicing. He could vaguely hear the echo of a mother as she taught her child to fly. One pulse for encouragement, another to instruct. Comforting pulses vibrated the air around him, deafening the other senses, but Domin's heart raced as he trained his eyes on the research center not too far ahead now.
Four more steps.
Two, bumpbump bumpbump.
He swung the door open, panting, just as Sands screamed, and saw Flynn fling himself at his own partner. Domin didn't stop to consider his own injury, didn't stop to consider anything at all. With a strength he shouldn't have had after fighting owls and thorns and anti-social idiots, Domin launched himself toward Flynn and intercepted him, knocking them both down hard into the dirt below. Flynn squirmed underneath the force of Domin's weight, who struggled to keep him pinned. He usually wouldn't have a problem pinning Flynn, with years more experience and decades more stamina to withstand pain, but this Flynn seemed incapable of feeling pain at all. Growling, warning Flynn to stay down, Domin kept his injured forearm pressed against Flynn's neck, his blood mingling with the blood already smeared all over his friend, and looked away from Flynn and toward Sands.
Sands seemed dazed, frozen.
"What's happened?" Domin demanded, pressing harder against his captive's neck when Flynn tried squirming again. Sands shook his head, quiet, panting but oh, so quiet, unresponsive and wordless as Domin had never seen him before.
Looking back at Flynn, Domin noticed the foaming mouth and the pure red eyes, no whites and no pupils. No emotions, no spark of life or intelligence so characteristic of Flynn. His eyes held… nothing, except that hard, glowing red glaze. Absolutely nothing.
"Flynn?" Domin whispered.
But Flynn was gone. Though his friend's body breathed beneath him, Domin knew that Flynn no longer inhabited it. Sands had to know it too, because as soon as Domin voiced the name, Sands sobbed out a croaked gasp and collapsed, knees hitting hard ground as he covered his face with his hands and wept. Flynn eventually stilled, breathing but no longer struggling, eyes still vacant and mouth still dripping blood. The blood belonged to the humans, Domin recognized as he breathed in the smell of the stuff for the first time since he'd intervened. Human blood, for no other substance smelled like that. The humans hadn't attacked after all, but the other way around…
"I'm going to let you go," Domin warned as he started to rise. His arm throbbed, protesting to being used as a restraining device in its current condition, and he couldn't continue to hold Flynn down for much longer anyway. Besides, he'd calmed down; surely he would snap back to himself soon. Beside them, Sands didn't pull his hands away from his face or move at all at Domin's words, other than to tense his shoulders.
But as soon as he started reducing the pressure on Flynn's neck, Flynn renewed struggling and snarled, working his arms and once more attempting to break free. Domin forced his arms down, again, and again pressed down upon his friend. They couldn't just lay there in the dirt for however long it took Flynn to return to normal. Domin couldn't, anyway, not with his injured arm and not with that tantalizing scent of human blood so close to his nose, the blood itself even smeared on his arms and torso. He didn't have the stamina to last like this.
Twisting his head to glare at Sands, he snapped, "Sands, get over here and help me!"
Breakdowns could take place later.
But Sands shook his head, mumbling incoherently through his hands.
"Then go find Orson," Domin couldn't believe he just said that, "He wasn't far away. Echo for him. And tell him to hurry, because I can't hold Flynn for much longer and if someone doesn't help me get him to a closed room, then he's going to attack again. You don't want that to happen, right?" Sands looked up at that, at least, his face streaked with tears and snot and fear. Domin nodded toward the exit. "Off with you, then, go on, we'll have time to panic afterward."
"D-domin," Sands started, crawling toward them both.
Flynn moved again, applying pressure to Domin's hurt arm as he forced his neck upward, obviously having found Domin's weak point and willing to close off his own oxygen supply in order to seize the opportunity. Domin yelped, but endured, forcing all of his body weight forward, his feet planted and head spinning. Sands was still moving toward them instead of toward the door, so Domin used the breaths he would have used on more yelps and damn near had to shout, "Go find Orson, damn you, Sands!"
The shout seemed to shake the man out of his stupor, finally, because he scrambled to his feet and, sobbing even as he moved, Sands took off out the door, echoing for Orson desperately, and Domin could do nothing but hope that Orson could be trusted to return the echo and close enough still to arrive in time.
All the while, Flynn foamed at the mouth, and flies gathered around what little remained of the human species in the next room.