"And so, you can easily argue that Hornington’s theories do not stand up to current scientific standards, as well as entirely contradict the findings of Rosher in his study, "Swamp Gas Aishas in Their Natural Habitats." Therefore…"
Twirling her spoon with one clawed finger, Rentiey was beginning to think that every breakfast would be like this now. Getting painted always changed a pet, and ever since her brother, Chartruse, had been painted Transparent, his confidence had risen exponentially. This also had the unfortunate effect of making him completely unbearable. She was too polite to tell him to go away. The Draik sighed and put the spoon down.
"Excuse me," he said, eyes narrowed. "Are you even listening?"
"Yeah, I am." Time to pick up the spoon again. Resume swirling cereal.
"Well—good. Now, back to what I was saying." He opened his mouth to continue but was quickly interrupted by the slam of the door. His head whipped around to look at the second intruder on his very perfectly interesting monologue. "Ugh, do you mind?"
The surly Pteri in the doorway flapped over to the table and perched on the top of a chair, ignoring him entirely. She leaned forward to pluck a juicy Tchea Fruit from the bowl. After chomping it down, she sat in silence, just watching. The Hissi scowled at her.
"Are you finished, thank you very much?"
"Char, no one cares about your weird science stories," she grunted back.
His eyes widened. "How dare you? The work Hornington and Rosher have done for the scientific community is astounding, absolutely imperative—"
"Yeah, yeah, Rash and Hornwhatever are real important and all. Fine." She cleaned between her feathers. "Just can it for a minute, will ya?"
Chartruse gasped. If he’d had any visible skin, it would have just molted off in rage. He hissed unintelligible sounds at the two. Perhaps they were ancient Hissi curses that would molt their skins off, but since he slithered away to his room in a huff, Rentiey doubted they were anything beyond a case of uncharacteristic speechlessness.
"I see you’re in a good mood this morning, Mal," Rentiey said. She took a bite of her soggy cereal, grimaced, and swallowed. "You know, like always."
A wry expression rose on Mal’s face. She grabbed another fruit from the bowl and pecked at it momentarily. "You got that right. When I have to listen to that Hissi on his high horse, I’m always just peachy." She stopped, a cross looking passing over her face. "And if I have to tell Ayabith one more time not to switch my alarms from AM to PM, I'm going to flip."
The Draik didn't have much to say in response. Her sister had always been a spitfire and hard to placate, and their youngest brother loved to push buttons. This family sure was something. A big-headed Hissi, a grumpy Pteri, a trickster Xweetok, a shy Eyrie, and... her. Not to mention their talkative but moody owner. Thinking about how weird her family seemed made her laugh. Was everyone like this? Even so, it seemed to work, despite the arguments and loud crashing noises that ensued occasionally.
She pushed her cereal around in the bowl again. Listening to her brother for so long had made it lukewarm and mushy. There was no sense in trying to eat it now. She moved the bowl away from her place at the table and got down to leave. Mal was invested in eating, so she wouldn’t notice her leave. It was time to go back to her sanctuary.
Rentiey nudged open the worn wooden door to their backyard. A tree sat on a small hill a couple feet away, gnarled and ancient. Its winding roots snuck between patches of dirt and dandelions to bury itself in the earth. To her, it was the most beautiful tree in the world. She flew over to it, coming to rest on one of the higher branches.
From up high, the view was a sight to see. Long stretches of green woodlands lay before her for what seemed like miles. They lived pretty much in the middle of nowhere. She liked it that way. For a while, she sat there, watching branches sway in the wind and clouds float across the sky like dilly-dallying children.
She heard the sound of footsteps softened by grass below her. Glancing down, she saw it was her other brother, Autumn.
"What’s up?" she asked him. The Eyrie jumped at her voice.
"Oh, I had no idea you were up there," he said, looking up at her. "Should I go?"
She waved a hand. "Feel free to join me. I’m not doing much."
He flapped his wings to fly up to her, finally taking his seat next to her and closer to the trunk. He brushed off his fabric of his paws on the dry wood underneath him. Rentiey squinted—there was definitely some piece of dirt on his hind leg—and used her tail to flick it off. He jumped again. She laughed.
"You sure are a bit paranoid today, aren’t you?"
"Erm, no more than usual," he said quickly. "Are you up here to watch the clouds again?"
Rentiey nodded. It had been a favorite hobby of hers when she had been an Aisha not so long ago. That time in her life had been plagued by a yearning for the skies that she had no means of fulfilling. It was hard, scary, and sort of depressing. When she got her wings again, she wanted nothing more to be in the sky, but watching it still gave her a sense of calm.
Turning to him, she said, "You’re welcome to stick around. What brings you here?"
"I guess I, well, have a question for you."
"Do you…" Autumn struggled to finish. Maybe he was embarrassed; he was like that a lot of the time, having trouble speaking up and expressing himself. She was the same way. It seemed like he was the only one who understood her. By the time she finished thinking about it, he gathered the courage to continue. "Did you, when you got morphed and painted and all those different things—well, did that ever make you feel like you didn’t know who you were anymore?"
A hard question. She stared off at the clouds for some time. In some ways, she’d had so many experiences in her life and so many changes that went with it, that she couldn’t say. Yet, she knew that it was hard to identify herself as any one thing. A Shoyru, an Aisha, a Draik, and anything else she’d been that she had long since forgotten. Different colors, different owners, different surroundings. Rentiey watched him carefully as he waited for an answer. Autumn had never had much change in his life. She wondered if he had something on his mind or if he was only curious.
"It’s confusing. You get comfortable with one way of looking at yourself only to have it ripped away. Sometimes over and over again," she said quietly. The clouds were gathering above them. A storm was coming. "And sometimes you forget. You become what others expect you to."
The Eyrie looked at her solemnly. His eyes were clouded with an emotion she couldn’t quite figure out. "I get the feeling when I look in the mirror, sometimes, that I'm different than who I used to be." He had once been green, then covered in clouds, and now sported a plush purple coat. She'd never noticed him being upset about it, yet...
"I don't really have any right to feel that way, but I do. Only sometimes, though."
"There's nothing wrong with being unsure. It's just something you figure out in time, I would guess. I can't tell you for sure, but at least know that you're not the only one. It's been hard. I don't know who I am." She curled her claws around a tiny branch and squeezed. It was strange to share her feelings; she'd never really had the chance. They'd taken a backseat to daily life. When she looked at him again, his eyes were glittering. Autumn seemed about to cry.
"I love you no matter who you are. You’re my sister, through everything," he said. The words were so soft that the growing winds almost carried them away. "Not just me. We all love you."
She stared off into the distance and smiled. So it was, wasn’t it? They were family. They were meant to love each other, even when it was hard or inconvenient or confusing. Whoever she became, they would be there for her. That much she hoped. Even if it wasn't true, she knew Autumn would always feel the same. He understood.
"You’re right," she said. "But we’d better go inside. Don’t want to catch ourselves a cold, right?"
Autumn tipped his head in agreement, readying his wings to fly to the ground.
He paused. "Yeah?"
A little smile. "Of course."
And off they went.