Martha Wells‘ book, The Cloud Roads, has been very well reviewed indeed. Of course, her books usually are. She just released this prequel on her website for those who can’t get enough. It’s very different in tone from the book itself, which it should be, as its protagonist comes from a very different background (covered here, in another prequel).
He woke lying on his back, blinking up at the worried faces that hovered over him. Braid was here now, and Rill, and Petal, as well as Balm. But the person crouched next to him was Jade, the young daughter queen, the soft blue of her scales vivid against the gray walls. He stared at her, startled. She watched him with worry and some other emotion he couldn’t quite place. Fear? What’s she afraid of?
“What happened? Did I fall?” he tried to ask, but his voice was a strangled croak. He was in his Raksuran form and he could feel the gritty stone floor under his scales. He started to lift a hand to his head.
“Just lie still.” Petal caught his hand. She was leader of the teachers’ caste, and she and Chime had been friends since the nurseries. He had never seen her look this disturbed. Her voice tight and tense, she said, “Flower’s coming.”
Chime stared at her. He cleared his throat. “Am I hurt?” He didn’t feel hurt; stunned, maybe, and a little sore in the back. Nobody answered, they just looked at each other, like…like he didn’t know what. Fear made his heart pound. “What is it? Tell me!”
They all looked at Jade. Jade took a sharp breath, as if about to plunge into something unpleasant. “Chime, something happened when you shifted. You don’t look like yourself. I mean, we can still tell it’s you, but it’s you…if you were a warrior.”
He stared up at her, incredulous. “That’s not funny,” he said weakly, but no one was laughing. “That can’t… What? That’s not…” He pulled his hand from Petal’s grasp, stared at it. The scales of his shifted form should be gold-brown, a common color for Arbora in his line. But the light fell on dark blue scales, catching a gold undersheen. The blue was close to Jade’s shade. There were blue Arbora, but it wasn’t as common… “Oh, this can’t be happening.” Chime pushed away from them, shoved himself to his feet. He staggered; his balance was off, his body oddly light.
Someone must have carried him out of the central well; they were in one the smaller side rooms, the one with a fountain pool fed by a channel in the wall. Chime almost swayed over backwards, stumbling to the pool. Catching himself on the rim, he stared down at his reflection.
He was looking at a Raksuran warrior, tall, lean, with blue scales. Horrified and fascinated, he raised his spines to see if they were longer, and something else extended out behind him. It took him a moment to realize he was looking at the edges of his wings as they unfolded from his back. “Oh, no.”
Jade said sharply, “Chime, don’t.” She stepped up behind him to press on a spot between his shoulder blades. Some reflex he didn’t understand made the wings fold back in at the pressure. “There’s no room in here. If you extend your wings, you’ll hurt yourself.”
Your wings. That was why his back felt heavy, why his balance was gone, why his body felt light. Warriors had lighter bones than Arbora. He turned to Jade, saying helplessly, “What happened?”
She spread her hands. “I wish I knew.”