The autumn winds were rushing in from the north, and bringing with them a heavy tumble of clouds. Rain was coming, a heavy, chill rain that would sweep this scrubland without mercy.

It was as Brennan was considering his all-too-scanty options for cover that he felt a familiar prickle between his shoulders.

That was the only way he knew the change was coming. It had no rhythm that he’d been able to glean; it could strike at any time of day or night, hungry or fed, alert or drowsy. Sometimes weeks or even a full turn of the moon would go by without one; other times one would come less than a day after the prior had waned. But when his skin started to itch and feel ill-fitting upon him, he knew the change would come, welcome or not, within the day; in a matter of hours it would be too uncomfortable to conceal entirely.

Here, though, there was nobody to see. Nobody to know. What good would it do to resist? Besides, the change did bring with it some benefits.

He cast about only a brief time longer, finding a hollow tree in which he could stuff his pack. It’d give him no shelter worth the name, but it would at least keep his belongings dry, especially once he secured his cloak over it. That cloak he unfastened, now, his thumb giving the amethyst-set bronze falcon clasp a wistful polish as he did; draping the cloak over a branch of the dead tree, he went on to unlace his tunic and boots, and loosened his belt.

The first scattering of rain was already starting to fall upon him as he slid out of his tunic and kicked off his boots, a coolness that, after a hard day’s walk, actually started out rather pleasant. He shoved his boots in under his pack and his tunic over it, then slid out of his trousers as well, setting them on top. Thus exposed, it didn’t take long for the wind’s bite to turn from a welcome cool to uncomfortable chill, but he ignored it just as he ignored the prickling itch spreading across his body. Neither would bother him for long; and he used the time to wrap a length of rope around the tree, wedging the edges of his cloak under it above and below the hollow.

It’d suffice for this little squall, at least.

Even as he took a step away from the tree, he could sense the thickening of his skin – the stiff grass not pricking so unpleasantly at his feet. Then, even as the rain started to beat down on his bare skin, the biting, needling cold dulled – not from numbness, but simply from having less impact; the stinging of the drops muted as the sparse hair on his body grew denser, thicker, and longer, shifting in shade from a middle brown to a vibrant autumn orange, save in long, somewhat jagged bands of black that wrapped around his body, tapering to nothing on his front.

The itching under his skin grew stronger; he reached out to clamp a hand on a branch of the dead tree, rising up onto his toes, keeping as little of his feet in contact with the ground as he could. The water’s touch, muted by fur and by thicker hide from a bite to a caress, was the only constant. It ran along his spine, stroked his arms, slid down his chest and stomach; from there a good portion went down his legs, but some of it cupped in against his manhood and the pouch beneath it, the latter blanketed now not in hair but in rain-damp, downy fur.

His hands contorted as they, too, changed, nails narrowing, growing thicker, shifting down to the very front of his fingers, stretching out into wicked, curving claws that bit into the bark. His toes underwent an even greater change, growing thicker, his feet and legs realigning themselves. For a dizzying moment, his vision swam, his face feeling like hot wax flowing under the touch of a flame; and an entirely new set of sensations grew out from the base of his spine, stretching behind him.

When his vision cleared, everything was more vivid – not just his sight, in which colours were richer and every stirring blade of grass, every tumbling, splintering drop of rain, was visible, but sounds, too; the patter of rain, the whistle of wind, the rustle of grass and occasional leaves, even the sound of his own breath. Most of all, though, was the feel of it all – the water drumming against his pelt, sluicing over his body, curling around what few parts of his flesh remained bare and wrapping them in a chill that, far from uncomfortable, was incredibly invigorating.

Brennan stood a bit straighter, still gripping the tree limb with his left hand. The right, though – that one wandered inward, downward. His claws combed through the fur that now blanketed his stomach; then he splayed his hand, smoothing the fur down and continuing lower.

His manhood hadn’t changed in heft any more than the rest of him had – it was still in much the same proportion; it, and he, were only marginally greater in stature than before the change. But, like the rest of him, it had changed a good deal more in character. The skin was no longer pale, but pure black; wet with rain, his flesh glistened like polished onyx. Already the caress of the rain was coaxing it to rise; under the pads that now tipped his fingers, it quickly rose to full attention, and the rising surge of raw need, so much stronger than anything he’d known before the change, made his head spin.

His fingers slid along his manhood, tracing the shape of it. Still he bore the familiar crown at its head, but now, just below that crown, the flesh was girdled by a collar of raised bumps, bumps that grew more prominent as the change neared completion, rising into a corona of spines; the surface of his helm, too, became so endowed, and also stretched out somewhat to more of a tapering point than its usual blunt profile. On the surface it was a modest gain; maybe a finger’s breadth of length, from that tip to its fur-shrouded root.

But beneath the surface it was much more profound. As his limbs, while hardly bulkier than before, had strength and vigour such as he’d never known, so too the changes in that part of him were far greater than the eye could see. His fingers, wrapping around that rigid pole, found it hot as a brand. The spines, even with the change complete, were supple, not vicious – they tickled at his fingers, and so in return, as his hand slid up and down his length; neither chafed the other.

Not chafed, no. But the pleasure that coursed through him from that simple stroke was electrifying; he shuddered, head tilting back, a sound halfway between a moan and a tiger’s growl let free onto the embracing wind.

Again and again his fingers slid along his length, each stroke sending his pleasure rushing higher. His feet, now paws, splayed out under him, curling, claws digging deeper into the turf as those on his left hand sank into wood. His breath came only in ragged pants, now, sensations barraging him too strongly, too quickly, to permit him a full breath.

And then a sudden rush gripped him. Not otherworldly ecstasy, no – but no less intense for being mundane; he trembled from the strength of it, drinking in the unfathomably rich aroma of his seed as it arced out of him and spattered on the wet grass before him. For far longer than he’d ever known as a normal man, he kept bucking into his own grip, working a dozen pulses of his essence out of his aching flesh.

And then the torrent receded. The water beating on his fur became, once again, his strongest sensation, though the heady scent of his own release now threatened to mute even that. Brennan leaned heavily on the tree, his breath growing measure by measure more steady; his sinuous banded tail, lashing behind him at the height of his release, now fell slack behind him, resting upon the wet grass.

He drew a deep breath, forcing himself to stand up straight; once there, he did indulge himself by closing his eyes and drawing in another such breath, holding the scent of sex in his lungs.

The change had shattered his life, taken away all he had held dear, and condemned him to a lonely wanderer’s existence. But from time to time, he was reminded, it could make that loneliness a little easier to bear.