My name is Sadie, and I'm a sorceress in training at the Dragon's Glade Academy of Magic.
I've already told you the story of the day I missed the magic bus to school, only to turn myself into a griffon by accident in my attempts to arrange alternative transportation for myself.
For days after that, I devoted my spare time to reviewing that spell and figuring out how it happened. I rewrote the spell a bit, working out the kinks and making the whole thing much simpler. I even touched it up so the transformation could undo itself when I touched down at home; that way I could "commute" both ways.
I haven't ridden the bus since. Flying to school and back as a griffon is a heck of a lot more fun than spending twenty boring and awkward minutes stuck in a stagecoach car; it's also faster and more convenient. I've never even gotten in trouble for it.
Well, okay, that isn't quite true. There was this one time.
I was flying to school as usual, tagging along with the magic bus. I loved flying around the bus from every angle and getting reactions from its passengers. One moment I would be right outside the side windows, another I would fly below and play with the bus's wheels, and still another I would perch on top for a few seconds before jumping off to resume my flight.
As the Academy of Magic drew closer and closer, I flapped my wings and soared ahead. I heard a frightened neigh from behind me as I did; I could only guess that I'd startled the pegasi.
I landed in a corner of the courtyard, returning to my human self as I touched down. As I did, I heard a crash, quickly followed by several cries of shock and worry.
For a moment I stood there, too frightened to move. A small crowd began to collect near the site of the noise. Then an adult voice broke the silence.
"Everything is under control. Everything is under control. Move along, people, and go to class. Move along."
Thinking I was off the hook, I did exactly that.
First period began as usual. My first class of the day was a course analyzing magic and the use thereof as featured in popular fiction. It was a boring class for me, since I preferred the more practical courses; the other students seemed to enjoy it, though. Today we were looking at a series of novels by some Rowling woman.
In the middle of class, though, a chill shot through my spine, and I stood up involuntarily. I marched away from my desk and out the door, my movements not of my own accord, as if someone or something was possessing me. The students stared, but the teacher continued as if nothing was wrong.
I knew what this was. This was the Academy's way of summoning students out of class when they were in trouble. I already had a hunch about what the problem was.
Minutes later, I stood before the desk of a professional-looking sorcerer, the Academy's headmaster. He looked like a classical wizard, complete with pointy hat and white beard. Many students suspected that the beard was fake, although there was no conclusive evidence either way.
"Sadie Nightingale. Have a seat, will you?"
The chill suddenly left my spine, and I could move freely again. Still, I didn't dare defy the headmaster. I took a seat in the chair beside me.
"Thank you. Now, your attention here, please."
The headmaster placed a finger on top of the crystal ball that rested on his desk. Making several complex motions, he called up a still image of the Academy's magic bus. Beside it flew a very familiar griffon; it bore a saddle from which hung a bookbag, but no rider.
"This is you, Sadie, is it not?" the headmaster continued, pointing at the griffon.
"We've known for quite a while, Sadie. It's highly unusual for a griffon to be flying about with a saddle and cargo but no rider. We tracked its magic aura and recognized it as one of our students."
The fact that they already knew about my "trick" felt like an icy dagger in my heart. "Am I in trouble for that?" I managed to ask.
"Not for that, Sadie. There's nothing wrong with your means of transportation; as far as we're concerned, you're just applying what you've learned here in a practical manner. You're not even the only one who transforms to travel here."
I breathed a sigh of relief. "Then... for what reason was I summoned here?"
"I'm glad you asked."
The headmaster turned his finger on the crystal ball. The image changed, and I was looking at the magic bus again, only now it had crashed into the Academy's wall. Both the bus and the wall looked battered, but mostly intact. My heart sank as I realized I was looking at the cause of the noise earlier that day.
"You surprised the pegasi, they veered off course, and this happened," the headmaster continued. "Luckily, the damages were not as bad as they could have been. The only casualty was one of the pegasi; its skull was smashed in the collision. It's already been resurrected, but its mind is in chaos and it will have to be retrained. The crash was at an angle, so the other pegasus was fine. Other than that, all the damage was easy to repair."
A deliberate pause in the headmaster's speech signaled to me that I wasn't going to like what came next.
"We estimate about a week for the harmed pegasus to be ready to pull the bus again. Until then, Sadie, since this crash was your doing, YOU will be taking its place."
I nearly fell back in my chair.
"You'll be summoned to the bus garage at the end of the school day; we'll have a transformation spell prepared for you by then. For now, you are free to go back to class."
With a sigh, I got up and left the room.
For the rest of the school day, I tried to focus on my coursework, but my impending punishment lingered in my head. I had no idea how tolerable or how bad it would be. Somehow, the fact that it could've been much worse did little to reassure me.
Finally, the bell to end the final period sounded. I packed up my bookbag and had barely left the room before the chill hit my spine again, and I involuntarily marched to the Academy's bus garage.
I'd never really been inside the bus garage before. The place was half garage, half stable. A few stable-hands attended to the pegasi, while enchanted stagecoach cars remained lined up in front of a large door leading outside the school. The cars looked as good as new; I couldn't tell which ones had been damaged by the crash.
The headmaster was waiting for me. He explained exactly how my punishment would work: at the beginning and end of every school day, I would be turned into a pegasus and pull the bus for one round as it picked up or dropped off its passengers. After each round, I would be returned to normal and allowed to resume my normal schedule. Of course this would mean I'd have to arrange my own transportation to and from school, but it wasn't like I hadn't done that already.
"...Do you understand, Sadie?"
I nodded without saying anything.
"Good. You can leave your bookbag here; we'll keep it for you, and you can pick it up after your round."
I handed my bookbag to the headmaster, who placed it aside before directing me to stand in front of the assembled bus. I did, facing the exit door, knowing what was coming next.
The headmaster walked up to me, brandishing a magic scepter. He gently tapped me on the head with it, as if knighting me.
Almost immediately, the transformation began.
The first thing I felt was a pain in my nose and mouth. I felt my face as it elongated, forming a horse's snout.
Then came an even sharper pain from my back. I knew this part, but reached back and felt it anyways. Two fine, feathery wings now decorated my back.
A sudden loss of balance forced me to fall forwards, and I found myself standing on all fours. My fingers and toes were already receding as my hands and feet became hooves. My robe ripped and disappeared as it recognized that my body was no longer suited for it.
I glanced back and saw the final touch: a fine horse's tail, white as snow, swishing back and forth on my behind.
I was done.
I was a fine pegasus with silvery fur, my wings and tail bright white. I looked exactly like the pegasi that usually pulled the magic bus.
One of the stable-hands touched the bus's reins, and they jumped onto me, startling me. I reared back and let out a loud whinny.
"Just relax, Sadie," the headmaster whispered to me. "I know you know the route. You'll do fine. Just stay calm and don't second-guess yourself."
Yes... just stay calm, Sadie. I'll do fine.
Once a second pegasus was hitched up beside me, the driver climbed on board and let out a whistle. I whinnied and galloped forwards in perfect sync with the pegasus beside me, pulling the bus out in front of the school where dozens of students were waiting for me.
"All aboard!" the driver called out, and the students piled on. Once the bus was loaded up, the driver struck both me and my partner with a riding crop, encouraging us to move. The enchantment on the cars was doing its job; they felt no heavier than when they were empty.
Up ahead was the edge of the cliff, but I knew what to do. As soon as the other pegasus and I left solid ground, we opened our wings and took flight, spreading out so we wouldn't bump into one another. We were airborne, and so was the bus.
The round was performed without incident. We stopped at various points, dropping off the bus's passengers. Once the bus was empty again, we returned to the bus garage, where I regained my human form and my bookbag, and was allowed to take my griffon form and fly home.
For the rest of the week, and the first part of the following week, I remained on bus duty. Of course this meant I had to go to school early every day, and come home late. Pulling the bus wasn't nearly as fun as free flight, but I still found a bit of joy in it.
My very last round was a pick-up. I knew all the stops by now, so I made the route without incident... until the very end. Just when the bus was making its final approach, a griffon flew out of nowhere and cut in front of us. The other pegasus and I both freaked out-- no doubt for different reasons-- but I managed to keep the bus on course and land safely.
I later found out that the griffon was a shapeshifted faculty member, who'd done that deliberately at the headmaster's request to test me. Go figure!