The fateful council of war took place out in the sunshine on the patio of Lance's home. Henry had received a call from the Defence Ministry that morning and had disappeared to the Sixteenth Battalion's depot, in preparation for the mobilisation of his brigade, which was to be announced within twenty-four hours. Ed was practically living at the Ostberg Palace. The boys and girls of the M-M were on their own.
'Which is juss as well,' Damien concluded, 'as there's gonna be some things goin' down here I'd ravver not see interrupted. Mrs Willerby is fortunately out of town.'
He observed the grouping of kids narrowly. Yuri, grinning all over her pretty face, was clasped tight to Mattie's chest. Marky, giving every sign of wanting to do the same with Mike, confined himself to a cow-like gaze that never strayed far from his boyfriend's face. Rafe and Gabe were so close together that they might as well have been joined at the hip, whispering away to each other in their own private little world, giggling non-stop in a rather irritating way.
Reggie had just concluded his magisterial survey of the events they had experienced in the World Beyond. 'So the thing is this, guys, we've struck a big blow against Tobias and his plans. We've saved the angelic leadership and thwarted his attempt to conduct biological warfare against humanity. Course, it's also made Daimey into a power in his own right, though we're not sure yet what that may mean. But the Dead seem keen on him.'
There was a laugh at the look on Damien's face. Then he took the floor. 'Iss all like Reggie said, but iss not yet possible to say what exactly is goin' on here. As for now, number one on me agenda is the Mendamero Men.'
'You what?' asked Barry.
Damien stood, pulled off his top, dropped his shorts, briefly looked down and then transformed. There was a clatter as Luc fell backwards off his recliner. 'Putain!' he exclaimed in shock.
Damien flexed his colourful wings and stretched his muscled arms.
Barry stared mesmerised at Damien's enhanced genitalia. 'Wow!' he breathed.
'Major horns!' contributed Marky.
'Men, Lance did this to us, and it's not going away. We'll always be part avian from here on. What I'm gonna ask is if you - Marky, Bazza, Luc and Mattie - will join us in this form. Now, as Reggie just pointed out, there's problems attached to this state. Whaddya say, Lance?'
'My thoughts are that the Men have been picked for this very moment. Since we're all going to be in danger until Toby is sorted once and for all, you would be safer if I were to transform you. You have to understand, though, that the process is not completely under my control, so I can't know exactly what you'll become. All I can say is, it'll reflect your inner being and personality.'
Barry laughed suddenly. 'Then my Lucky will turn into something that's all mouth.' A clip around the ear from his boyfriend answered that sally.
Marky was the first to agree to making the change, and the other three followed on. They obeyed Damien's instructions to strip, then stood together, Barry and Luc hand-in-hand. Marky kissed Mike deeply before joining the line.
Damien winked at Lance, who frowned in concentration. Yuri hid her eyes when the pain hit her boyfriend, as bodies arched and agonised cries rang out.
The process over, Mattie Oscott looked down at himself with delight. 'Fuck, I've lost my gut!'
'And we all thought it was such an integral part of what you are,' Reggie observed coolly.
Mattie was extraordinarily handsome. He was tawny, with glorious, golden eyes, his wings a warm brown and his hair much the same honeyed colour - including the thick pelt running down his broad chest and covering his ridged belly. Yuri was staring with deep interest at the prominence of what emerged from the dense bush at his groin.
Luc was intricately striped in grey and white, his hair wild and black, his wings raven-like, and his brow enhanced by sharp, white horns.
Barry was striped almost identically, but in gold and brown. His wings were yellow and orange. However, the bodily changes had been more extensive in his and Marky's cases, leaving both of them hornless in more than one way. Marky had the same colouring as Damien, but his wings were a gorgeous soft blue and green. He was however gazing with shock at his chest and groin. The transition for him and Barry had removed some much-treasured furniture; instead, only a significant fold was visible at their hairless crotches, and full breasts hung from Marky's ribcage.
Luc Charpentier flexed his new wings with confidence and style. Transformation into this new form had brought with it instant ease in the air. He had left Strelzen far below him in pursuit of Barry. While he could easily have caught up with his boyfriend, he was developing into a wise man. He knew the physical effort of flight might calm Barry down somewhat.
He glanced down to admire his new body. He hardly felt naked, though the passage of the wind over his skin left no doubt he was, especially as it moved around the heavy black member hanging between his legs. The zebra-like whorls and stripes adorning his hide made him appear clothed. His great raven wings beat again and he felt like roaring with the delight of it all as he soared and banked. Barry was losing height now, and Luc glided down behind when his lover alighted on a bare hilltop within the Wenzlerwald.
Barry unthinkingly but elegantly folded his wings behind him. There were tears in his eyes as Luc hugged him tightly. They clung together for a long time. 'I've been fucking castrated, I'm not a man anymore,' Barry sobbed.
'Bazza, mon cher, you're not even human anymore.' Luc deliberately chose the masculine form of the endearment.
'But my dick ...'
'... will be there when you change back to being my beloved Bazza, don't worry. How does it feel?'
Barry separated from Luc and probed at his own groin. 'Like ... I dunno. My dick was such a big part of me.'
'Wasn't it just!' chuckled Luc.
'It's not funny. I'm a girl!'
'I'm not sure you are, mon copain. To begin with, you have no breasts, and you still have your lovely tight behind; it's just more highly decorated. Look at us, Barry, we're a pair. It's the effect of our mating; our shapes reflect our relationship. All you want is to be under me, and your new body, while still keeping the male shape that profoundly excites me, has adapted to what you most deeply desire.'
'Pour être ta salope?'
'C'est même ça. C'est possible que tu portais notre enfant comme ça.'
'Moi, une mère? Choquant!'
'Mais pourquoi pas? C'est le résultat logique de notre amour.'
'You French with your logic.'
Luc observed that Barry was calming. He embraced his lover once more, slipping a hand down between them to caress the unfamiliar folds of flesh he found at Barry's crotch. He was not resisted. Soon Luc's fingers were slick and the folds had swollen outwards. Luc kept soothing Barry, who trembled beside him, uttering little cries and moans at the astonishing new sensations surging up through his body, far more powerful than what Luc's fingers had done to him as a human male. Barry's wings unfolded. They flexed involuntarily and strongly, as did Luc's in response.
'Oh!' he whispered into Barry's pointed ear. 'It seems that creatures like us fuck on the wing.'
Beyond caring by then, they beat together into the air, never separating, and were high over the ground as Luc's massive black member eased its way deep into Barry's new entry. Then there was an eternity of ecstasy as they surged and beat the air together, falling and rising, climaxing again and again, screaming and crying like mating eagles when they were not kissing furiously.
Mike Atwood looked uneasily at Marky von Lauern as they sat huddled together in Lance's bedroom. He was aware that they had to talk, but was unable to think of what to say. Shocked at the nature of his transformation, Marky had switched back into human form, picked up his discarded clothes and raced upstairs. Mike had not needed Lance's hint that he should follow, but had no idea what else to do when he caught up with his lover.
Eventually, Mike said the only thing he could think of, which fortunately was the right thing. 'I love you, Marky.'
His hand was clutched. 'I know that, hunk. But what worries me is, would you love a girl-shaped Marky?'
'Oh yes. I desire you deeply, Marky, whatever shape you are. It's you I love.'
'Thanks, baby. That means a lot. D'you know what shocked me?'
'The loss of your penis?'
'Yes ... no. It was the fact that I was secretly excited at what I'd become, even the breasts. I was fully female, unlike Barry. It's all I can think of now, you inside me like that. My body betrayed me. But the thing is, I don't think I'm effeminate or a trannie. I don't want to dress like a girl, but I do want to be fucked like one.'
'Then you have your wish, my Marky. Or you will have, once Lance can work out how we, his brothers, can also be changed, for at the moment it is not possible.'
'Oh! You mean you're locked into your human bodies?'
'That was Tobias's magic, and it's too strong for Lance to undo. It would seem ironic that you can have wings, while I, an archangel, have had mine clipped.'
Downstairs, the flight of two of the M-Ms - one of them literal - had put the meeting into recess. Mattie was resisting hints that he should transform back, as Damien had, and Yuri was taking his side. She was snuggled adoringly up to his furry chest, at ease in his powerful arms, happier than a lottery winner.
Damien in the meantime went over to the twins, still hand-in-hand. 'How ya doin', Rafe?'
The boy grinned blissfully up at him. 'I am well, majesty.'
Damien glanced at Gabe. 'Why does he call me that?'
'My brother is ... was ... a prophet amongst us. As a human, his gift is obscured, but if he addresses you in that way, it is for a reason.'
Damien pondered the explanation for a while, then continued, 'Now you're back, Gabe, I needs yer advice.'
'I am at your service, majesty.'
'Now you'redoin' it! Stop grinnin', yer mischief-maker.'
Clearly having fully recovered from their bout of angel-flu, the twins were revealing an impish humour. They burst out into merry laughter at Damien's reaction.
He shook his head and continued, 'Gabe, you're a political sorta dude. Way more so than Lance, I'd guess. The Dead gave me a lot to think about. Iss not as simple as I'd thought, all this business of angels versus seraphs, one side for humanity, the other against it. Turns out the Dead still think of the living as their kinsfolk and they've been secretly working to help us. Iss theywho've been behind Uncle Rudi and little Maxxie all this while. So tell me, what do the angels want?'
The boy pondered. 'We're the weakest of the factions, Daimey. We're not much more than messengers and observers. The Satan alone among us had real power and the confidence of the Creator. But even so, he was exiled to earth, and it was a great blow when we lost our prince. Now with the four archangels sent here, there are none of us left on the Council with any influence. Those still in the World Beyond are powerless and leaderless. That was always Tobias's plan.'
'Yuh, I unnerstand that, but according to yer bruvver Mike, Tobias's little plans have blown up in his face. Lance mated with Reggie and wuz transformed into something more than an angel, and from what I can see, summat's happening to you four too. Yuri and Mike have joined up wiv humans... and there's somefink about you two which looks like more than just bruvverly love.'
'My brother and I are mated ... not yet physically, but soon we will be joined in body too, or so I hope.' Gabe cast a smouldering look at Rafe, who returned it with interest.
'This mating business changes you angels, that right?'
'Yes. It's the emotional effect. We all operate in what we call "love" but - as I now fully understand - it is not passionate, angry, scared or sacrificial like human love. Angel love is no more than general benignity. Once we experience true emotional love, we're no longer angels, but something different.'
'Neither angel nor human.'
'Maybe angel andhuman, just as you and your friends are no longer entirely human ... you even less so than they, majesty.'
'What do yer mean?'
'You are very like Lance now; you have the same aura. You have become as much his brother as I am. You have - as he does - great power. Lance is both spirit and man, and so are you. The Lord Satan was born to be a prince, and you were reborn as one in the Isles of the Blessed. I think that is what my brother Rafe sees in you. A new race has arisen, and we in this house are its first offspring. You and Lance are the fathers of our race, we your children.' He looked suddenly solemn. 'O Prince, grant us a request.'
'Try your power. Liberate our spirits in these bodies, so we may fully become your children.'
'I can do this?'
'Lance cannot. But your power is greater than his. The Talisman is within you, and its might is far more even than Tobias's. Healing is not all it can do. The Dead knew that when they joined you to it. Make us new beings, like Reggie, Marky, Mattie and the others. We wish fully to become their brothers and lovers.'
'Umm ... I'll talk to Helen and Lance first. Okay, Gabe?'
'As you wish, Daimey. But if it is not to happen here and now, my brother and I have something to do while still fully human.'
'Go for it, Gabe. The lube is in the top drawer of Lance's bedside table.'
Hand-in-hand the twins pounded up the stairs. The battering of the headboard on the wall of the guest bedroom indicated pretty soon afterwards that they were by then pounding other things than the stairs.
Lance came out on to the patio with a drink of cranberry juice. He scanned the sky and called over to Damien, who was deep in conversation with Helen, 'Luc and Barry in final approach!'
From being distant black dots, the two swooped rapidly down out of the summer sky and alighted at the poolside. They kissed passionately, and as they stared in each other's eyes, returned to their human forms. Luc went to recover his clothes, but Barry took a few moments to reacquaint himself with his male genitalia. His face was unfathomable. He sat down, and hauled on the underpants which Luc threw at him.
'Er... okay, you two?'
Luc nodded. 'We've got a lot to think about.'
'I think we all have,' agreed Damien. 'Fookin' change back, Mattie!'
It was as humans they all resumed their places, only the twins being absent, and no one was going to disturb their recreation.
Marky sat close to Helen, she taking his hand silently. She sensed his deep internal trouble.
'Before he went off to attend to ... er ... other business, Gabe Atwood had somefink to tell me. He believes I has the power to do to the angels what Lance did to the humans. He believes I can alter them so they correspond to us, to transform them into our new avian species.'
Mike and Yuri broke out into exclamations. There was little doubt of their opinion. Damien continued, 'I'll give it a try, babes, if that's what yer want. Gabe and Rafe begged me to do it. Are you willing?'
Mike spoke up firmly. 'I'm ready!' Yuri's agreement was as determined.
Lance looked concerned, but did not disagree, simply warning them, 'Just bear in mind what we've already seen. The results may not be what you expect or even want.' He glanced at Marky, who blushed hard.
'Get naked then, all of yer. Mike, take Marky in your arms; Mattie, take Yuri. Somefink tells me yer two pairs will match. Who can say what the twins will turn into? All the other couples sit together. One last thing. If this works, we gotta disappear for a while. We'll have to talk it out where no one can get to us.'
'Eden,' Lance suggested. 'Time is different there. I can take us all.'
'And the scenery's nice.' Helen laughed.
At the last moment the twins reappeared from the house, flushed and already naked. Gabe's penis was still partly inflated, hanging heavily between his thin legs. The twins were otherwise identical, even down to a birth mark next to their navels.
'Then here goes!' Damien gave a frown as he reached inside himself to trigger the power to liberate the angels' forms. It worked. There were cries as all the teens on the patio transformed. Damien was watching the twins as it happened. Their bodies became ivory and slender, hairless apart from black manes which fell far down their backs. Their wings were green, shot with red. Neither had horns, but Gabe was decidedly male, while Rafe's penis shrank into himself, his hips widened and small breasts swelled out from his chest. Rafe seemed delighted as she explored herself.
When Damien turned to see the other two couples, he found that Yuri and Mike had become the sexual counterparts of their mates, with the same colouring. Mike was however proudly crowned with thick green horns, which simply emphasised Marky's renewed femininity. She clung to the huge form of her lover staring up into his eyes. Yuri was the smallest of all of them, but the exact counterpart of Mattie, apart from lacking the fur he had down his front.
Damien issued his orders. 'Guys, we stay in this form. We're gonna fly. Lance, take us to Eden. It'll give us the space and time to get to know what we are. Wings! We go! Now!'
The female avians clustered around Helen, who had become their mother-figure. It had to be, she said, not just because she was Damien's mate, but as she was the only one of them born female. She had the training.
Time had little meaning by the River of Life, where the hybrids had set up camp, so no one felt any pressure to return to reality until they had sorted themselves out - and it took some sorting. Rafe and Gabe shifted sex, sometimes unpredictably, so it was never entirely clear which was the female and which the male. Marky and Yuri had shifted towards the female decisively, more so than Barry, whose form remained androgynous, though he preferred to pal around with the girls. He was beginning to nag Lance and Damien to see if they could alter his physical nature so he could do what the twins did. 'Get yerself a fookin' strap-on,' Damien eventually retorted, a little impatiently.
Marky was sitting behind the more petite figure of Yuri, grooming her wings, while the pair endlessly compared notes about the sex they were having with their men. The mating pairs were generally exclusive, but Luc, Barry and the twins were coupling in a variety of combinations, sometimes same-sex.
Sex happened a lot, and privacy was not a possibility if they took the option of inflight sex, which appeared to be the most natural as well as exciting way for them to do it as a species. Soon after they arrived they had all flown high into the blue and mated in their couples, the sky full of wheeling conjoined pairs. It was what Damien had called 'The Mile-High Club' and as their society began to develop, sex in groups or carried out publicly seemed to be integral to it. There was never a question of clothing being required for avians.
Lance and Reggie could currently be seen at it high in the sky above camp. Lance was beating strongly with his wings as he held Reggie by the armpits beneath him. Reggie's wings were straight out in glide position, and his legs splayed. Lance was deeply inside him, thrusting in time to his wing beats, an ecstatic Reggie all but hanging from his cock. It looked strangely and beautifully choreographed from below. It went on for some time as they circled, rose and fell, the act of flying itself becoming deeply sexual.
Helen sat close up to Yuri and Marky, kissing them both and taking Marky's hand. 'You're my sisters now. Isn't it great?'
Yuri beamed. 'It's wonderful, but how about you, Marky?'
She squeezed the smaller girl to her and kissed her hair. Marky's voice as a female was a throaty alto. 'It was a shock, Yuri. But being here with you two has helped. I've never felt as happy around boys as I do with you. You know what an outsider I was at school, Helen. I thought it was because I was gay, but now I wonder if there was more to it. I spent most of my time with you even then.'
'But you never wanted to dress up in my clothes or paint your nails.'
'Maybe not. But I was more on your wavelength than anyone else's. Now I'm seeing why. And there's Mikey. It was amazing being taken by him as a man, but when that thing of his opens me up from the front, it's beyond anything I could have imagined. My first female orgasm was a revelation.'
Helen agreed. 'It was the same for me too. Our men are awesome.'
Marky mused further, 'The thing I'm finding oddest is the effects of the sudden loss of testosterone. I can only see now what it did to me as a male: the endless, edgy frustration, the sudden intoxicating feelings of total omnipotence, the terrible down periods. It was like being on drugs ... bad drugs. I don't miss it. The time of the month can't be that bad ... if we actually even have it as avians.'
'Helen?' asked Yuri.
'Yes, little one?'
'Have you had a period in this shape?'
'Not yet, although that could be for any number of reasons. I'm about due for one, but time is weird here. As avians we may not ovulate the way humans do. Something does tell me that we're designed for child bearing, though I hope to God we're not an egg-laying species.'
Marky's eyes widened. 'Oh, what! Think of the piles you'd get passing something big enough to hatch a kid. No way am I gonna sit on a clutch for several weeks. What are microwaves for?'
Yuri giggled. 'Maybe we'll call them fledglings. I'd like that name for our kids. Will our babies be born with wings? It could be a problem popping them out.' Marky laughed and hugged her tight.
Barry had wandered up in the meantime. 'It'll make catching the little buggers a lot harder,' he harrumphed.
'Don't be negative, Bazza,' Marky chided. 'Mind you, what if they're born with horns?'
'Has your Gabe been talking about kids?' Yuri called over to Rafe.
'Oh, we have a plan. We'll have sex on either side of our changeover, and get each other pregnant. We'll be mothers and fathers simultaneously. If we produce at the same time, our kids'll be sort of twins. Maybe we'll both conceive twins. They run in families.'
Barry put his head in his hands. 'It's making my brain twitch. We may all be pregnant, for anything we know. Are we ready for this?'
Helen soothed them. 'It's not likely, girls. I don't feelpregnant. And though there are no days and nights here, I can count. Daimey and I have done it at least fifty times since we arrived. Odds are we'd have conceived by now if we were fertile. I wonder if in this form we may have more control over our cycle. I think I'd know if I was carrying a child.'
Yuri sighed. 'Pity. I want little ones so badly.'
Marky rocked her in his arms, and kissed her honey-coloured hair again. 'I could get into it, I have to admit. Now I'm female, I might as well go for the whole package.'
Barry was still gloomy. 'Have you girls thought that returning to Strelzen is not going to be easy? How do me and you adapt to being boys again, Marky? Being a girl already seems natural to you.'
Marky nodded. 'Part of me wants to stay here for good with my Mikey: to build a nest in a big tree somewhere.' She laughed. 'It'd have to be box-frame concrete to support his size and weight though.'
'And there's another question,' Barry pursued. 'If we stay avian, what sort of homes do we build?'
Helen responded briskly, 'These are all good questions. The point is, we're beginning a new civilisation here, which is why Daimey brought us. He's thinking long-term. He expects us one day to stay in these shapes and leave our humanity behind us for good, though I have no idea where on Earth we can be ourselves. Our children won't have the choice to be avian or human, remember. If we have them in this form, they'll be winged. So we have to iron things out in advance.'
'Here's another question, then,' pursued Marky. 'Why do some of our boys have horns and others not? We've got four horned avians, all male: that's Daimey, Lance, Mikey and Luc. What've they got in common?'
'Bossiness?' Yuri giggled.
Marky hugged her again. 'I thought it might be sort of like a warrior caste, but Mattie's not got any horns and I think he'd be good in a fight, and for that matter, I'd want to fight alongside Mikey just like you'd fight alongside Daimey, Helen. I don't think female avians have to be docile and protected.'
'So what do you think it is?' Helen asked.
'I think it's a sign of princely status. I think our horned males are our aristocracy.'
'Oh, no! Luc will be insufferable,' moaned Barry.
There was a flurry of wings and the large figure of Mike Atwood loomed over the group. He leaned over to kiss Marky as Yuri moved away, then settled behind his mate, taking her on a massive thigh. All the girls were eyeing his endowment; his was the largest of all of the males' and Marky's accounts of taking it widened eyes.
Mike asked what they were talking about, and they raised the horn question. 'It may be so,' he agreed with his mate. 'I believe we avians are social creatures, and sometimes dominance within a group can be echoed in physical form. It is clear that Lance and Damien are to be our leaders, and they have the largest horns. But had you thought what it is you girls are doing here? It's you that are forming our society, sitting here, exploring ideas and concepts, not a council of horned males. Damien may be our prince, but it's you he's counting on to devise our realm.' He got up and bowed low to the girls. Then he turned to Barry. 'I came for you. Damien wants you.'
Barry struggled up, flexed his yellow and orange pinions, and took off after Mike. He found Damien and Luc at the riverbank.
Damien got straight to the point. 'Bazza, you're the only unhappy avian in our little family. Luc's been bending our ears, but let's hear it from you.'
'I don't feel right, Daimey. Well, I do feel right when Lucky's taking me up my new fixture, that's sensational! Otherwise, though, I don't fit in with the girls and I miss my favourite body part. Luc says he wants my penetration. Can there have been a mistake?'
Damien brooded. 'You wuz changed by Lance, and he also feminised Marky. Seems Marky's okay with it, but maybe Lance's magic is more sympathetic to what our society wants than what's right for you. But Reggie wasn't feminised though he's the bottom of the pair, and there must be a reason for that, so I'd guess it was that deep down Lance wantedReggie male. It may be that if I re-do you I too can consciously influence your assignment. I'm willing to see if the Talisman will make a different decision on yer. So change yourself back to human.'
Barry complied, looking pale, small and sickly amongst the large, colourful and vibrant forms of the avians. 'You'll let me keep my stripes, will ya? I want to look like my Lucky still.'
'Yer can't make conditions, Bazza. This is the last roll of the dice, so take what yer gets or stick to being human. But hold Luc. It might help when the change hits.'
Barry screamed out his pain. The change was definitely worse the second time around. When he sagged, transformed, in Luc's arms, his skin colouring and markings had indeed remained. He wasn't horned, but his wings were now the same raven black as Luc's. It was as the two avian lovers separated that it became apparent that Barry had been rendered male once again, remarkably so.
'Merde!' gasped Luc.
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