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The Rift

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1/10/2014 15:04:49   
Wolf Rider

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I remember the first time I took flight. It was an ordinary day. I live, or at least used to live, in the mountains. I was always an outgoing and active person, so climbing every day was nothing short of a joy to me. I would climb about five miles away from home – more of a hike since there was no real climbing involved, just scrambling over the occasional rock – and sit at my favorite little outcropping. It was nothing special. Just an outcropping where I could see the town from without much difficulty. But to me, it was always breathtaking. I felt like I could see the entire world from that one place.

It was a freak accident. Something that should never have happened. I have sat on the edge of that outcropping and stood up safely from it literally hundreds, if not thousands of times. I should have never fallen. I shouldn't have even been able to fall. But maybe the wind caught me at just the right angle. Or perhaps some loose dirt or a rock shifted so subtly, I wasn't even consciously aware of it. I don't know. All I know is, one second I'm standing up to go home, and the next I'm plummeting to my death.

I don't know how it happened. I don't know why it happened. It was a fate that I would never have wished upon anyone. But it happened. As I'm falling, I feel my back stretching and pulling, and something under the skin moving upwards. Then my back felt like it was being ripped to shreds as two things burst from it.

Everyone dreams of flying. Of having wings. They all talk of the freedom they'll have. Of how amazing it would be to go wherever they want, whenever they want. They never mention the pain. They never mention the blood.

They also conveniently forget to mention that if you've never had wings before, falling to your death isn't a good way to learn how to use them, because you'll have no idea what you're doing. Through the pain filled tears, I was vaguely aware that I had wings. Whether they were the feathery bird wings that everyone depicts, or more like bat wings in shape and structure. They were also slowing my fall slightly. But not enough.

I tried to control them. At the moment I was falling, they were simply uselessly angled slightly upwards. Enough to slow me down a miniscule amount because of drag, but not enough to save my life. So I tried to spread them. Though I suppose it was more trying to angle them so that they were horizontal. That failed miserably. One ended up cooperating and the other didn't and I ended up in an out of control spin.

Somehow, I still don't know how I did it, I managed to control myself – or more accurately these growths on my back – just enough to stop spinning and level my flight. Which was fortunate. What wasn't so fortunate was that it wasn't soon enough to keep me from crashing unceremoniously, and gracelessly, to the ground. Which hurt quite a bit. Evidently humans bounce. I learned this the hard way. We don't bounce very much, but we do bounce.

Gingerly sitting up, I discover that luckily, despite having several scrapes and more than a few bruises, I didn't break anything. Taking a moment to make sure that no one was around to see me (since a person with wings is somewhat on the 'not normal' spectrum of things), I finally look at these growths that sprouted out of my back. They were the pretty feathery angel wings that everyone pictures having. Though I doubt most people picture their pretty feathery wings being black as pitch. Or at least, underneath the blood that was slowly dripping off of them, they were black. The same color as my hair, so I guess it made sense. In the bizarre world where randomly sprouting wings made sense, at least. I imagine that once the blood is washed off, they would be somewhat pretty. For a tumor, at any rate.

Touching one, more to make sure that it was real and I wasn't just dreaming than anything else, I felt the texture. It was soft. Like touching a bird. Glancing at my hand when I pulled it away, my fingers were red with blood. Rubbing them together, they were slick and slippery. These things were real. It was impossible, but they were actually there. Much to my surprise, some of the blood dripping off of them was coming from the wings themselves. Looking behind me, I saw that I'd dropped some feathers. Most likely they fell out during my crash landing. It was hard to see clearly, but at some of the places where the feathers had been ripped out, there was blood pooling up from them. So some of the blood was, in fact, coming from my wings themselves and not from my back. Looking down to more closely inspect that my legs suffered nothing worse than a few scrapes, I saw that the blood dripping off of my wings was slowly pooling into a puddle around me. Not the most pleasant of experiences.

I violently shook my head to clear it. Now wasn't the time to be investigating these growths! I may not have landed near the town, but I was still in a popular hiking forest. A hiker could stumble upon me at any moment. Stumbling to my feet, I took off towards the mountain. My parents wouldn't be home until sunset at the earliest. I could grab some clothes, maybe some non-perishables, and leave. They'd be heartbroken, but they wouldn't have to deal with having a freak for a daughter. I didn't know where I would go. All I knew was that I had to find somewhere I wouldn't be seen.

It was slow, difficult, and painful going. Not only were my legs badly scraped from my landing, causing me to limp slightly, my newest body parts kept snagging on every available branch. My wings were massive. Each one taller than I was, and easily twice my width each. And try as I might, I couldn't stop them from snagging. It didn't make sense! Birds were able to fold their wings without any trouble. Surely these were no different?

As it turned out, my wings were very different from a bird's; having a more defined arch to them, and being shaped differently. Where a bird's wings were designed to lie flat on their backs, mine weren't. Taking slow, measured breaths, I focused as hard as I could on these wings. It took some careful maneuvering, and a good deal of patience, but I finally managed to fold my wings back. They were flatter than I would have imagined, resting almost comfortably just above my back, with only a small amount of overlap. Despite their length, I also discovered to my surprise that they didn't drag on the ground, hanging just slightly above it. glancing up showed me the reason for it. With my wings folded up, they reached over my head. So maybe they weren't that different from a bird's wings, after all. Maybe they just seemed different because humans weren't made to have wings naturally, so they had to change to be able to work for me.

With the issue of my wings as sorted as I could make them, I again headed off as quickly as I could for home. It took longer than it normally would have. Looking at the driveway, my parents weren't home yet, but according to the sky, they would be any minute. I had to work fast.

The benefit to living practically in the wild is that I learned how to fend for myself from a young age. I wouldn't need much more from home than clothing. Rushing to my room, I dug my duffle bag from under my bed and threw all of my clothing into it. Luckily, backless shirts were what all the stores were selling right now, so at least my wings wouldn't be an issue. Taking a brief moment to experiment confirmed that belief. If I kept my wings as flat as they would get, I could slip the shirt over myself, with only minimal snagging from my wings. Something that would go away with practice, I hoped. I didn't know if these strange wings would be a permanent addition or not, so I had to assume they would be.

Making sure I had all the clothes I could carry, I ran out the back door, stopping only briefly to grab the first aid kit from the bathroom and shove that in my bag as well as a few bags of non-perishable food. I ran as far as I could up the mountain, but I knew that that wouldn't work for forever. My parents know how much I love the mountain. It would be the first place they would look. But it was still better than staying home.

I limped until it was too dark to see very well. Then I slowed my pace to a hobble. Looking around to try and get my bearings, I saw a bright orange cloth. A marker for the times that I hiked farther than to my favorite (not so favorite anymore) outcropping. There was just enough light to make it out. I remembered that there was a small crack two rocks nearby. To the best of my memory, there was just enough room for me to squeeze through it. Or at least there was before these disgusting growths appeared. And I doubted I could fit my bag through it.

Then I heard it. The sounds I hoped I wouldn't hear. My parents crying as loud as they could for me. I had no time to find a better hiding spot. Running to the tree with the marker, I climbed as high as I could. Stashing my bag there and hoping that it would stay, putting the strap around a sturdy branch for good measure, I climbed down as quickly as I safely could. Unfortunately I was being too quick and ended up falling. These growths somehow proved useful, snapping out with a loud whoosh! and slowing my fall enough for me to land, not only safely, but quietly. Again maneuvering them to lie on my back, I limped for the two rocks that I could just make out the shape of.

Taking a deep breath to prepare myself for this likely painful squeeze, I turned sideways and started trying to squeeze my body inside. It was agonizing. My arm fit without a problem. As did my leg. The snag came with my wing. It fit, but it was a tight squeeze. My wings scraped painfully against the rock behind them, and my face scraped against the rock in front me me. Somehow, I got through. And behind the seemingly small crack was actually a sizable hollow. It was by no means large, but it was large enough for my purposes that night. Not that the size really concerned me at that moment. All I wanted to do was sleep and try not to think of how much pain I was in. I was convinced I couldn't be in more pain if I tried.

“Ava! Aaavaaaaa!” I let out a muffled pained gasp. I was wrong. Hearing my parents crying for me, from the sound of their cries not far away from where I was currently hiding, hurt far more than any physical wound ever could. It was all I could do to stay quiet until finally their cries faded as they moved on to a place further up the mountain, the light from their flashlights fading away as well. When I could no longer hear their cries, even after several minutes passed, I let myself cry.

Why did this happen to me? What did I do to deserve this? All I wanted was to be a normal girl, like all my friends. I didn't want this. To have wings sprout out of my back and have to run away from home. I never wanted to break my parent's hearts like this. When I could cry no longer, I curled up on my side as best as I could and managed to fall into a fitful sleep.

When I woke up early the next morning, I was surprisingly warm and almost comfortable. Which didn't make sense since I was sleeping on the ground in a cramped hollow between two rocks. Though that didn't make sense either. What was I doing there? The answer to both points of confusion revealed itself to me once the fog cleared from my mind. Those growths on my back. One of my wings was acting almost as a cushion for my body, while the other one had curled to act as a blanket of sorts. This of course, led to a difficult time sitting up as I kept getting on my wings, which hurt significantly.

Then it hit me. I still had wings. I very nearly wept again, but knew that I didn't have much time before my parents came back. I didn't know where I would go, but I knew I had to keep moving. Squeezing out of the hollow was just as painful as it was squeezing into it. I had lost quite a few feathers doing it. Glancing at my wings, they were also covered in a light film of dried blood. It was... unpleasant to look at. I knew where a nearby lake was. What I didn't know was if I'd have time to actually clean my wings off. Deciding I would solve one problem at a time, I scrambled up the tree that I had climbed the night before and retrieved my duffel bag.

I hadn't noticed the night before, likely due to adrenaline, but the duffel bag was actually very uncomfortable. The strap was pressing against one of my wings painfully. It took quite a bit of arranging to place the strap so that it settled comfortably in the small gap between my wings at their base. When my wings were folded back, they covered the strap. They could even stretch to their full length without the wing closest to the bag bumping into it.

Remembering that speed is important, I quickly head off in a random direction, eating a sparse breakfast of the food I had grabbed. The path I had seemingly chosen at random was the one that led to the lake. Having heard nothing of my parents or any searchers they might have called in to help, I decided it was worth the risk and, after removing my bag, waded into the lake. The cold water against the recent cuts and scrapes stung fiercely, but it felt good to clean off the dried blood. Once the blood was cleaned off as best as I could, I carefully dried my skin and applied an antibacterial to the scrapes before bandaging them.

Glancing at my wings, which I had no idea how to care for, I saw that, much like a duck's wings these almost repelled the water, leaving them drier than I would have imagined they would be with how long I was in the lake. What water was there was already drying quickly, leaving me to wonder if they would be able to act as a sort of tent during the rain, or if it was simply so I could safely fly, if I ever did, without them being weighed down by water.

I had to wonder, though. Could I even fly? The sheer size of my wings implied I could. As did the fact that they were able to slow my flight down. Theoretically, if I was able to control them enough, I would be able to fly with them. But I was aware that humans weren't exactly built to fly. Probably due to bone shape and structure and human density or some other science mumbo jumbo. The truth was, I would never know unless I tried.

Deciding to use this clearing as a way to test whether or not these wings functioned as anything more than ways to slow down falls, I let them relax, checking that no one was around first. Not seeing or hearing anyone, which was odd as my parents wouldn't give up searching so quickly, I focused on what I was going to be attempting.

Realizing that my first priority should be simply controlling these growths, I concentrated on them. It was difficult work. No matter what I did, these things simply would respond to my mental commands at will. After a painstakingly long time, I finally felt my wings twitch when I thought about stretching them out. I was making progress!

My concentration on my wings was quickly broken when I heard the cries of several people. So that was what had taken my parents so long. They called in people to help look. Grabbing my bag I sprinted away as fast as I could, ignoring the discomfort of the strap pressing against my wing. Remembering the little used trails, I headed towards them.

Seeing an outcropping out of the corner of my eye, I remembered a place. It was a rocky beach, practically an island not far from where I lived. Inaccessible by boat because of how the rocks were formed and too dangerous to try and swim to. If I could get to it, it would be the perfect place to hide. But that was a very big 'if' on wings I didn't trust to hold my weight for sustained periods of time.

Hearing the sounds of people getting closer, I frantically looked around for a place to hide. There was none, and no way I could safely get back to my hiding place of last night. My only choice was to take a leap of faith.

Taking several deep breaths, I adjusted my bag so that it wouldn't hinder my wings, furling them against my back so that they wouldn't slow me down. Once I was as ready as I could be, I ran as fast as I could for the edge of the outcropping, jumping when I hit the very edge.

For several horrifying moments, instead of flying, or even gliding, I started plummeting. Then just like the night before, my wings snapped out, catching air and pushing me up with a force that felt similar to when a car came to a sudden stop and you were jerked forwards before the seat belt caught you. After being relieved to find that, yes, these things held my weight, I realized that I had no idea how to control them.

Trying to get my wings to flap led to some problems with the bag. While they could stretch to their maximum length, the bag was getting in the way of actually moving them. In what was at that point in my life the most terrifying thing I have ever done, I grabbed the bag solidly in one hand, and unclasped one of the sides with my other hand, pulling the strap down and holding the bag awkwardly with my hands. This didn't make controlling my wings any easier however. Using the force of my body weight, I somehow managed to turn myself around and crashed ungainly onto the edge, scrambling the rest of the way onto it.

I still heard people crying my name. And they sounded like they were getting closer. Which was making me desperate to leave. Glancing to my side, I glared at the disgusting growths coming out of my back. What good were they if they couldn't get me to where I needed to go? Cursing, I ran down a little used and mostly unknown path. It led to a dead end. I knew that. But it was so hard to find, that perhaps it would buy me a few hours to clear my head.

It was hard. Not only was the path a difficult one to follow, full of overgrown brush and tree roots, but I was still sore from yesterday. Every part of my body hurt. That fall yesterday did me no favors. Muscles I didn't even know could hurt were hurting. To top off the trouble, those stupid growths on my back insisted on snagging on every possible twig they could. Which hurt significantly, kind of like how it feels to have my hair pulled. But somehow, despite all those difficulties I was having moving at any speed, I made it as far as this path would allow.

Looking around, I saw that this 'dead end' wasn't as bad as I remembered it being. I was in a respectably sized clearing. It was probably even large enough to try and use these growths. Even if I despised even having them, if I wanted to get to that rocky beach, I had no choice but to learn how to use them.

Sitting down to eat and drink from a small creek, barely more than a trickle of water, I tried to still my mind. Controlling these tumors was hard work. I would need to be calm in order to focus on them. I knew that they could work. They had snapped out to their full length in both of my plummets down the mountain, and had even lengthened slightly when I was falling from the tree the night before, slowing my fall enough that I landed gently and, minus the noise of the wings, silently. I was also able to, with effort, fold them back so that they didn't snag on as many things. And before my mad dash from earlier, they were responding, just a little, to my attempts at controlling them. It was barely more than a twitch, but it was something. So these wings were capable of responding to my commands, I just needed to know how to make them respond quickly.

Standing up, I again tried to make these growths move when I wanted them to. It was just as difficult as it was earlier. These disgusting growths just would not cooperate with me. After what looked to be two hours going by the sun, but felt to be four going by how tired I was, the only progress I had made was to make my wings twitch slightly on command. Deciding to take a much needed break, I discovered to my surprise that my back was sore. Yes, I was still in pain from the fall the day before, but this felt like a different type of soreness. I came to the conclusion that I must have simply slept wrong and it was coming back to haunt me. Stretching, I sat down to both relax and try and figure out how to make these things work.

Every time I had fallen from any height, they had opened at least slightly. So perhaps that was what I needed to make them work. Standing up, I jumped as high as I could, but all that happened was that I landed without my wings so much as twitching. So apparently I did need to be at least a few feet off of the ground for my wings to act on their own. But falling like an eagle every time I want to fly won't teach me how to make these behemoths on my back work. Better to simply keep trying to stretch them on the ground. I was making progress, after all. I kept telling myself that progress of any kind was good, but it didn't help with how frustrating it was to have these things not respond when I wanted them to.

All day I practiced with these things. And finally, right when I was ready to give up for the day, I got these growths on my back to stretch. I only got them stretched halfway, but it was still better than nothing. Perhaps by the next day, I would be able to have them fully stretched at will. Folding them back with difficulty, I found a sheltered place, and curled up to sleep for the night. As little as I enjoyed sleeping outside without at leas a sleeping bag for warmth, I took solace in the fact that at least I wasn't bleeding.

Falling into a less fitful sleep than I had the night before, one of the last things I was consciously aware of was that the place I'd found to hide in must have been a good one. I hadn't heard anyone calling my name since this morning.

I woke up to find that again my wings had shifted during the night, forming a cocoon of sorts so that I woke up warm and relatively comfortable. Being careful to not press on them as I had the day before – being in no hurry to have a repeat of that sort of pain – I stretched and walked to my bag, grabbing a small amount of food to have for breakfast. Looking at my food supplies, I estimated that I had enough for maybe one more day if I rationed them carefully.

That gave me a goal to work towards. A probably impossible goal, but a goal just the same. I wanted to have enough control of these wings to fly to the beach that I had tried to make it to the day before, before my food supplies ran out. I knew that, despite it seeming baron from a distance, there was most likely a place for fresh water, and fish were easy to come by, even if they weren't my favorite thing to eat.

After I had eaten, I again continued trying to make my wings respond. It was difficult. I was sweating simply from the mental exertion of trying to make these blasted things respond the way I wanted them to. But it did seem marginally easier than it had been. Where before I was struggling for an hour or more just to make them twitch slightly, they would move almost immediately. But only a little.

But finally, right as I was thinking of taking a break, I had success. My new found wings were fully extended. For a long moment, I didn't do anything, just stood there and celebrated finally making these things move when and how I had wanted them to.

But simply extending these things wasn't enough. I had to be able to move them, if I wanted to use them for any type of flight.. I tried to flap them. And then I tried again. And continued to try, becoming frustrated at their lack of movement. This was the same problem I'd been having. I suppose I was a fool to think I could learn to fly so quickly. After hours of trying, finally these growths responded. They moved the slightest bit.

Much to my surprise, instead of moving forwards in front of me, as I had assumed they would, the small amount they had moved was downwards. Hearing a sound from above me, I looked at it and saw a bird land on a perch. Shortly after, it took off again.

Watching the bird take off, I noticed, like with my own wings, this bird's wings moved down to go to a horizontal position. While that didn't help me learn how to control these wings, it did at least explain why they had moved down instead of forward. These wings apparently worked like a bird's wings. So after I got them out, I would need to angle them downwards.

In hindsight, this made more sense. If I was going to flap my wings, the would need to be angled downwards first to push off against the air. I'm not sure why I thought they would move forwards instead of downwards.

Shaking my head to clear it of nonsense thoughts, I continued trying to make these massive wings move. By the time I had managed to make them move to almost horizontal, I was sweating badly and shaking slightly from exertion.

Shakily walking over to my bag, not even bothering to fight these behemoths back into a folded position, though I noticed that they had moved to a partly extended, partly folded position on their own, I collapsed in front of my bag. It took a large amount of willpower to not wolf down all of my food supplies. To make the sparse meal last longer, I deliberately took small bites and took my time chewing each of them.

After sitting down to relax for a little bit longer, I stood up, and again started trying to make my wings extend, so that I could move them downwards. It was agonizing. Everything I did made my back, and even my front hurt more.

Finally, after what felt to be several agonizing hours, but looking at my watch proved to only be one hour, my wings were as horizontal as I could get them. After taking a moment to be relieved about that, I then tried to move them up and down. This again proved to be a long and painful process.

Finally, miraculously even, I managed to get my wings to flap. First one very slow and shallow flap. Then another one, slightly deeper. Then another, deeper still. Finally, I managed to get a full flap. Then another one. To my complete surprise, these wings were actually working. Despite the fact that this is what I had just spent the past couple of days trying to do, I had never actually expected them to work.

Then I looked down. I was above the ground. It was only a couple of inches, but I was above the ground. Before I had time to celebrate this victory, though, some part of my body – perhaps even these new wings – gave out. I landed unceremoniously on the ground, barely keeping my head from hitting the ground by catching myself with my arms. Standing up, I looked at these new wings with something akin to awe. For the short time I had had them, it had never hit me. I could fly. I could actually fly!

This realization excited me enough to make me try again. It was still slow going, but I was eventually able to again start flapping my wings and lifting myself off of the ground. Once I was several inches above the ground, I felt my body tipping forward. After flailing around frantically in an attempt to right myself, nearly causing myself to lose what little altitude I had gained, I made myself relax. While disorienting, this not quite horizontal but not quite vertical angle I was at wasn't actually hurting me.

When I felt my wings start to tremble, I, with some difficulty, managed to right myself, and lowered to the ground almost gracefully. Despite my current situation, having grown these tumors and being forced to run away from home, I was beaming. I was achieving something people only dreamed of. I was almost a foot above the ground on my own power. All I needed to do was figure out how to move, and I would be able to fly.

But that would have to be a task for the next day. All I wanted to do at that moment was eat my sparse dinner and sleep. My back was in agony, and even my stomach was hurting.

Waking up the next day, I again had to force these wings out of my way in an attempt to avoid pulling on them, which was an unpleasant and painful experience that I would rather avoid than deal with. Cleaning myself off as much as I could with the small creek nearby, I ate quickly and, after stretching, again tried to move my wings.

As I had expected by this point, it was difficult. No matter what I did, these growths just would not respond with any kind of speed. And trying made my back and stomach hurt for some reason. Despite it being difficult, though, it was still marginally easier than it had been.

After getting them fully extended, I fought with them to get them horizontal. But once that had been accomplished, the actual flapping movement, while difficult – and while it was impossible to get a deep enough flap to leave the ground immediately – was comparatively easy.

Once I was above the ground, and again in the slight angled position that I had found myself in the day before, the only task left to me was to move forwards. This proved puzzling. Flapping my wings simply brought me higher up. Remembering that to even flap them at all I had to first move them forwards, I tried doing that.

It was slow, and it hurt like everything else did with these wings. But it worked. They moved forward, angled upwards as they did. Then, almost as if they were scooping the air behind them, they moved backwards. Not expecting this to happen, I shot forwards quickly. This led me to run into a tree, adding to my scrapes and bruises. I was gathering quite the collection of them.

Moving away from the trees so that my wings would have room to move, I again spread them and started flapping them. This time, however, I was prepared for the forward motion, and so didn't flap as deeply as I could. When I again ran into the trees after only a few flaps, I nearly screamed in frustration. Why wasn't I able to do this? I had figured out how to do everything. I was even getting these wings to respond to what I wanted them to do more quickly. So what was stopping me?

Taking a few moments to calm down, I glanced around the clearing in the vain hope that it would give me the answers I was looking for. Much to my surprise, it did. I had large wings, and was trying to use them in a forest. Of course I would run into the trees. I needed to learn how to turn with them. Though I wasn't sure if this place was the best one for it.

Deciding that what control of my wings I had would have to be good enough to make the flight, I spent the rest of the afternoon resting and gathering my things into my bag. For dinner, I ate what little was left of my food in the hopes that it would give me enough energy to make the trip, and drank quite a bit from the creek. Tonight would be better for this trip. It meant there was less chance of my being seen.

Not long before the sun completely set, but not when it was too dark to see anything at all, I folded my wings and headed to the outcropping I had jumped from the other day. It was a nerve-wracking trip. While there was still enough light to see the trees in front of me, there wasn't enough to see the underbrush and other hazards the ground wanted to throw at me. Every step had to be taken with care, and even then I fell more than once.

Finally, I made it to the outcropping. Remembering the difficulty I had with my bag the last time I tried this flight, I unstrapped it, placed the strap inside one of the pockets, and kept a firm grip on it in my hand.

Standing on the edge of the outcropping, I extended my wings, and after a few minutes to turn them, started flapping them. Once I was several feet off the ground, far enough that I was confident that my wings wouldn't hit the mountain, I angled them forwards and down, pushing myself forwards at a surprisingly fast pace.

But flying in the open like this was vastly different than flying, or more accurately learning how to fly, in the clearing. Here there was more wind to buffet my wings, making it difficult for me to fly until I stopped trying to fight the wind and let my wings carry me they way they were meant to.

Catching an updraft, I felt myself shoot upwards, these giant wings catching the air and then pushing me forwards.

Just when I was starting to become confident in my flying abilities, and even when I was starting to enjoy myself, I felt my wings shaking. Despite my attempts to keep myself aloft, I was starting to fall.

Looking around frantically, I could just make out the beach I was heading towards. Desperately turning my body towards it, I flapped my wings as hard as I could.

Just when I thought that I was going to make it, my wings gave out on me and I felt myself plummeting to my death for a second time.

The last thing I was consciously aware of was hitting the water.
AQ DF MQ  Post #: 1
1/10/2014 15:05:58   
Wolf Rider

“As you all should know, maintaining the barrier between the worlds is the most important task of a sorcerer. While it is not as grand as the duty the sorcerers that fight those that would abuse their gifts and harm others seems to be, it is a far more serious one.

“Sorcerers who have been tasked with the maintenance of the barrier have proven themselves to be of the highest standing. Both in magical prowess, and in their very character. That you have been chosen to do this task is the highest honor you could have been given and you should...”

On and on and on. This old man simply would not shut up. He's been droning on like this for hours now. We get it. This purgatory sentence of ours is a huge honor, now can you stop talking about it?

I didn't want to do this. I wanted to be out there fighting evil with the other sorcerers that weren't called to this life sentence. I was thrilled and honored when my teachers said that because of my skill I was being given the most important task a sorcerer could ever have. To be given such an important duty at my young age was almost unheard of. I just knew that they had seen my potential to do the greatest good and were putting me where I could be of the most use. That I was going to do great things with my gifts.

If they'd told me that it was standing around a ball of magic all day I wouldn't have been as happy about this.

Sure, this barrier is important. Every sorcerer was told from day one about it. How there didn't used to be two worlds. How before there was just one. But a small group of people wasn't gifted. They had no magic, no shifting powers, no way of practically protecting themselves against the dangers that our world had to offer. So in a desperate attempt to save these people, Bahati, Amadahy, Aeron, Chenya, and Dauid – five of the greatest sorcerers in that time and since – weaved the barrier, forever separating that world and this.

But since magic can't work without people to keep it alive, a select few sorcerers and sorceresses are chosen to constantly maintain the barrier, working in shifts. No one actually knows what will happen if it goes down. People just assume it will be bad. And they're probably right. And I know that this really is an honor, but that doesn't mean I want it. Let the older people – the ones who have fought their battles and made their names known – do this chore. Don't trap young people like me in here. It's just cruel to do that.

“Kele! Focus! What I'm telling you is important.” Sufficiently chastised, I bowed my head differentially and mumbled an apology.

My teacher sighed in resignation. Glancing around at the other young sorcerers, I saw with a bit of relief that, while I was the only one who had been called out, I definitely wasn't the only one who was bored witless.

“Believe it or not, I understand your impatience. At your age, you want to be out doing things that seem far more exciting and grand than maintaining the barrier. But it is vital work and you should all be honored. There is no more important task than this. If the barrier were to fall, the world that we have worked for thousands of years to keep separate would be exposed to ours, along with its dangers. The noble goal that the Five had in keeping them separate would be undone. This is something that we cannot allow to happen.”

“But surely by now they've developed enough over there that they can handle the risks of this world. Why not just let them know that we exist and if they can't survive, then it's their own fault for not progressing enough in the several thousand years they've had. Why punish us for their inability to adapt?”

I felt more than heard the collective inhale of my fellow chosen students at that bold claim. He might not have been the only one to think it, but Chua was certainly the first one to say it. Of all of us chosen for this imprisonment, Chua was the one I was the most surprised about. The people tasked with maintaining the barrier are known for their calm personalities, and vast amounts of patience, as well as their magical skills. And while Chua may have been unmatched in magic, he certainly didn't have the temperament needed for a task like this. Though it was possible he was chosen for his magical skills. From what I've heard, maintaining the barrier is hard work and takes a good deal of focus. It was why only the best were chosen for it. His magical skills would certainly be useful in this.

But it still didn't make sense that he would be one of the chosen few. Of all the people who I trained with, Chua was the only one that I was ever nervous around. Most of the people that I trained with and under would socialize with the others. During training we were focused and would weave magic as we were told, but outside of training, we would relax.

Except for Chua. I always kept an eye on him when we were in the same room. I don't know what prank was being played on us when he was granted the ability to weave magic. His skills may have been unmatched, but he had an air of cruelty about him. Judging by his willingness to let the people of the other wold die rather than do his assigned duty, I wasn't imagining this cruelty.

The glare that was leveled at him from our teacher was enough to make everyone, even Chua, take a step back in fear.

“The protection of alllife is the calling of sorcerers, Chua. In this world and in the other. Even if they are unable to survive in this world, we know with certainty that have have thrived in the other. Maintaining the barrier is the only way we can ensure that those of both worlds live in peace.

“Despite the lack of grandeur that the task of maintaining the barrier provides, it is not a punishment. It is the truest test of your skills as a sorcerer. While you are in the barrier room, every part of your being is focused solely on the barrier. Never will you encounter a more magically taxing task. While inside that room, there is no room for error. If your mind wavers, the resulting backlash from your powers reacting with the barrier could very easily kill you. I have seen many over-confident sorcerers and sorceresses meet their deaths in this way.

“One more whisper of letting those from the other world learn of this one and possibly die will result in a month of solitude. Am I understood?”

Chua, as I had done earlier, bowed his head differentially and apologized for speaking out of turn. As our teacher turned his gaze away and continued lecturing about the importance of maintaining the barrier, slowly all of us relaxed. Incurring the wrath of the elders wasn't something any of us did intentionally. A month in solitude would have been a light punishment in comparison to what could have been given.

Despite trying to pay attention to what was being said by my old teacher, I continually found my mind wandering to other, more exciting things. However, I made sure to at least look like I was paying attention this time to avoid my teacher's irritation. Thanks to Chua's belligerence, he was in an extremely bad mood. All of us were making sure to be on our best behavior around him until he relaxed.

Gods above why does this lecture have to be so boring? We've been taught about the barrier and its importance since we were children. We didn't need to hear all of this again now that we had been tasked with the job of maintaining it. Barriers in general were simple to maintain magically. All you had to do was focus your magic on it, picturing the barrier in your mind. While it did take practice to learn how to focus your mind on the barrier and the magic being woven at the same time so that the magic would channel itself into the barrier that was in the desired shape, once the basic skill was mastered, barriers did not take a lot of work.

Even the backlash wasn't new information. We'd been warned about backlashes in the early days of learning magic. It happened when you didn't focus your magic properly. It would either build up to be too much for what you needed, or too little. In either case, the magic that was being focused on would literally explode, causing a backlash. Largely backlashes were little more than a nuisance, causing a headache and a small amount of shock as our bodies tried to cope with our magic rebounding and striking us instead of what we were trying to achieve. In rare cases, the shock was bad enough to be fatal, but that always happened because the magics being woven were great and required a large amount of focus. Which brought a question to my mind.

“Elder, you said that many sorcerers and sorceresses died if they had a backlash from the barrier. But isn't the fatal nature of backlashes from magical sources as fast as the barrier the reason that we have many sorcerers focusing on the barrier? Why does the magic from the others not partially shield us from the backlash?”

The approving glance from the elder at those questions caused me to beam with pride. It was rare for the elders to show approval of things we have said or done in so visible a manner.

“You are correct, Kele, when you say that the backlash from the barrier should a sorcerer or sorceress lose focus is the reason we have multiple people maintaining it. While the magic of other sorcerers who are weaving magic with you will protect you from a backlash in most cases, the complexity of the barrier makes the backlash too strong for the magic of the others to protect you should you lose focus. If you do not concentrate on your task, you will die from this lapse of focus.”

I wasn't the only one surprised at this. While it was well known that some magics were stronger than others, a magic that was so strong that the support of the strongest sorcerers alive couldn't protect you from the backlash was unheard of. Judging from the expressions of the other students, they were just as shocked at this revelation as I was. Perhaps I should have been listening to the elder's ramblings about the barrier after all.

After a few moments of stunned silence, my teacher continued talking about the barrier and reinforcing its importance to us.

After listening to him talk for a few more hours, though this time actively paying attention to what was being said in case it was as important to know as the backlash being fatal, he opened the door that led to the barrier room.

The room itself was simple. I circular room with a focus – in this case an image of the barrier – in the center of a circular pedestal. Standing quietly around the pedestal were five sorcerers, all of which had their hands placed on it.

As impressive as the focus was, the first thing that I noticed was the magic itself. Despite being connected with the arcane arts, and feeling magic all of my life, this was the first time its presence in a room was so strong. The energy coming from those sorcerers was practically visible it was so intense.

We had barely taken a place to quietly observe when the door opened again and five more sorcerers entered the room, standing next to the first ones and focusing their magic on the barrier.

For the briefest of moments, the energy in the room dropped slightly as the first five removed their hands from the pedestal. But in the next instant, the magical energy was the same as when we first entered the room, the second shift pouring more of their magic into the focus.

Feeling my teacher gently tap my shoulder, I looked at him and saw that he was indicating that everyone should leave the room.

“Over the next several weeks you will be trained in the fine details of the barrier. At the end of this training, you will all join a shift in maintaining the barrier for a brief period of time. This will allow you to sense how much magic you need to focus into it without overworking yourselves.

“During the brief times you are on the barrier shift, you will notice that the magic is weaker than before you joined in. This will only be temporary until you have fully learned exactly what the barrier needs from you. This will mean that the barrier is weaker, however. During these times of weakness, all of you need to be focused. If you feel the barrier waver at any point in time, you must lend your aid to your fellow student.

“Return to your quarters. You will find texts on the fine details of the barrier within, details that are not taught to the rest of the students. Your task is to study these texts and know them as well as you know your own magic. That is all for the day. Dismissed.”

Part of me suspected that there was a reason we were shown the barrier at the end of our first day of learning about this duty. I was in so much awe at the magics that I felt in that room, that not only did my complaints about being sentenced to maintaining it disappear, I was almost excited to read the texts that the elders had provided. Laughing slightly at the elder's cleverness, I nonetheless walked to my room without complaint and obediently cracked open the first of the thick tomes.

Despite believing that reading these books on things I had been told about since I was very young would be difficult work, I found to my surprise that it was fascinating reading. The magics used in weaving the barrier were lost to us now; the techniques known but the ability to use them gone. It made reading about these old techniques and weaving arts far more interesting than I had anticipated them being.

Just as I was getting to the details on how to maintain the barrier, I felt something odd. It felt like when I was reaching out to my magic to weave a spell, but something about it was off; though I could exactly place what it was. It felt like there was an electric current running through my body, centering at the core of my magic. It wasn't painful, but it was extremely uncomfortable.

Standing up from my desk, I left my room with the intention of investigating what this was. Every step forward I took made this current stronger, though it still wasn't painful. I was eventually brought to the barrier room, where the current was so strong I was starting to worry I would experience a backlash if I moved any closer to the door.

Hearing a noise behind me, I saw the elder who had brought us to this door earlier.

“Kele, what are you doing here? You should be studying.”

“I was studying, Elder,” I said, “but then I felt something strange magically and was led here.”

At this, the elder gave me an odd, probing look, as if trying to determine if I was telling the truth or not. Closing his eyes, I felt him magically probe the barrier, but judging by his expression, he felt nothing out of the ordinary.

He had barely turned his gaze back towards me when the door burst open and five sorcerers ran out. I barely had time to see that there was another shift in position around the pedestal before their magic slammed into me, throwing me against a wall. Next to me, the elder was also slammed into the wall, both us of help up by their magic.

“Which of you did it? Which of you tampered with the barrier?”

I was so shocked at the accusation, I was unable to find my voice for a long moment. Someone had tampered with the barrier? Surely not. Surely such a thing was impossible. The barrier was the closest thing that sorcerers all around the world had as a sacred object. While we might mention the gods above in oaths, for the most part we were uninvolved with them. But the barrier we all, in some manner, held in something akin to reverence.

“That's impossible. No one can tamper with the barrier. The magics are too old and too great for even our strongest incantations to so much as scratch it.”

“Be that as it may, Elder, someone tampered with the barrier, and it wasn't anyone in the room. The two of you are the only ones outside the door, so it has to be one of you.”

Could the tampering of the barrier be what I had felt?

“You felt it?” The question, barked at me by an unforgiving sorcerer startled me greatly. I hadn't known I was speaking aloud.

“I'm not certain. All I know is I felt something unusual while I was studying in my room.” At the prodding of the five sorcerers, I related all that I had felt and done.

The release of the spells that held me pinned to the wall was so sudden that I stumbled forwards in an effort to not fall to my hands and knees.

“Can you remember anything else about what you felt? Are you certain that it originated here?”

I nearly answered in the affirmative when I paused, a memory trying to come to the forefront of my mind.

“No. I wasn't fully aware of it at the time, more focused on the unusual energy, but it felt like it was coming from outside the complex. As if there was a line of energy being drawn that originated from somewhere outside.”

One of the five sorcerers looked at the elder, and then glanced at me. He nodded and snapped his fingers, and I found myself warped back to my room, the door shut and barred closed. After the initial surprise at this, I let out a resigned sigh and sat back down at my desk.

I was in solitude. I had done nothing to deserve this, but if the others wanted me in solitude, then I was going to remain there until I was allowed out. I decided to at least use the time productively and dug through the magical books to see if I could discover what could have caused that energy that I felt.

I knew that I had an unusual type of magic. It was able to detect powerful spells, but only when cast on a massive scale, such as the barrier room. For me to be able to sense it from a distance, the spell had to have been on an unknown scale of power.

Despite all the knowledge that I had at my fingertips, I could find nothing that would possibly tell me what it was that I had felt. Or what it was that had affected the barrier.

An hour of studying later, food and water was sent to my room. When I saw it, I couldn't help but breath a sigh of relief. While I had known that food would eventually be supplied if my solitude hadn't ended by then, the food they sent was of a good quality. Whatever the reason I was confined to my room may have been, it wasn't a punishment.

On the third day of solitude, I felt another current of energy run through me. It felt like what had happened the last time the barrier had been tampered with. As much as I wanted to see what was happening, with my door barred, there was nothing I could do.

After five days of solitude, with food and water being sent to my room periodically so that I wouldn't starve or get dehydrated, my door unlatched. Recognizing the summons for what it was, I marked my place in the book I was reading and left the room. Solitudes were always followed by a meeting in the Council room. In most cases it was to see if the student had learned the lesson provided, but since I wasn't in trouble, I had no idea what the meeting would be to discuss.

When I arrived, the formality of the elders caused me to pause and wonder if I wasn't being punished after all. For all the elders to be in the same room was rare. They only all met in dire times.

“Kele. We have spent the last few days discussing what happened with the barrier.”

“If I may, Elders,” I spoke up, taking a great risk by interrupting the elders. “Two days ago, I felt another current of energy, exactly like what had happened with the barrier five days ago. Was another attempt on the barrier made?”

Despite the elder's annoyance at my interruption of her, she did not punish me as I had expected she would.

“You are correct. Another attempt on the barrier was made. We are not certain who or what is causing these disturbances. Nor do we know what affects are being caused.

“Kele, as you are the only one who has felt these disturbances, you are being tasked with discovering who is causing them. You are also being tasked with discovering what changes have been made. In our world and the other if necessary. In your room you will find a bag with all the tools we have deemed necessary for this trip. You will have two hours to go through this bag and add anything you feel you will need.”

Despite my fear at the large task I was being assigned, I couldn't help but feel excited by it. This was what I had hoped for. The chance to discover the world, see what it has to offer. Perhaps I would even become as well-known as the Five, or other great sorcerers known to history.

Making sure to keep my expression neutral, I bowed to the elders and backed out of the room.

As I had been told, there was a bag on my bed. Looking through it, I saw a round blue stone, slightly smaller than my fist. A speak stone. I was expected to report to the elders periodically. A note next to it told me how frequently they wanted these reports. There was also a canteen of water, and about a month's worth of food. Beyond that, it would be up to me to provide for myself.

A pouch so small I almost missed it was in a side pocket of this bag. Opening it, I saw gold, silver, and copper coins. A note next to it told me that I was being provided fifty gold, two hundred silver, and five hundred copper. Should this supply of money run dry, I could ask for more, but if I was found to have spent the money frivolously, I would not be allowed it.

The only things I ended up adding to the bag were my clothes and a few books. Then, focusing my magic, I opened up my Pocket, placing only the pouch of money on my person and the rest of the bag's contents inside the Pocket.

Taking a last glance around my room, I realized that I would need at least some bedding for the times where I wasn't in a town and there was no shelter available. Weather could be unpredictable and while it was a simple matter to conjure a campsite, having a few things already on hand would make the task a little less strenuous on my magic.

Deciding that I was as ready as I could be for the task I was assigned, I headed, for the first time in a very long time, outside of the compound. I had no idea where I was going to start, or how to go about asking for information on the barrier, but I hoped that ideas would come to me if I simply set out.

I was tempted to let out an oath the the gods. The elders had made this task harder by keeping me in solitude. Magics on the scale of the two that I had felt before always left a residue that I was able to detect for at least a small period of time. Where I had thought before that I was remembering the energy coming from outside the complex when questioned about it, it was more likely that I was detecting the residue of that spell; the stress of being questioned about what I had felt making me unaware of it at the time.

By keeping me trapped in solitude for five days after the first current, and two days after the second, all residues were completely faded beyond my ability to sense them. If the elders had just come to their conclusions at a faster pace, I would have had at least a slight trail to follow. Instead I had nothing to go off of.

Letting out a frustrated sigh, I found a large flat rock and reached out my hand into my Pocket. Pulling out the bag, I dug through it until I found what I was looking for. I pulled out a large map of the continent, placing it on the rock with four small stones to provide an anchor.

Studying it for a long while, I considered the type of magic I had felt. Even with a vast number of sorcerers, a spell being woven on the scale that I had felt couldn't have been done without three things. First, something to channel the magic would be necessary. But as objects of that sort were common, that wasn't of much help to me. Less helpful was the fact that catalysts came in every shape and size imaginable, as varied as we sorcerers were.

A focus would also be needed, so that the spell would have a direction to go towards. Again, focuses were common among places of sorcery, and even more varied than catalysts. They ranged from magical images of the target of the spell to mirrors. It was even possible that a picture of the barrier, if done exceptionally well and was highly accurate, could be used as the focus. Those weren't as common, and pictures of the quality that would be needed to be a useful focus were even less common. But without knowing for certain if that was what was being used, I couldn't search for people with the knowledge and skill required to make such a picture, nor could I search them out.

The last thing that was required was space. My teachers had always described the magic we wove as needing room to breath. The more complex the spell, the more breathing room that was required. A small spell like starting a campfire wasn't complex, and so could be done in a small area. A spell as complex as the one that was disrupting the barrier would require a vast amount of space. This would be the starting point for my search.

The nearest place that possibly had enough room to weave this spell was about three days travel to the west. Though with the harsh terrain that the quickest path provided, it would likely take two to four days longer than that.

My path decided, I carefully replaced the map and placed my bag back inside my Pocket. For a brief moment, I wished that I had the long staffs that training sorcerers needed. A walking stick would be a boon for a journey such as this.

The first half day of traveling wouldn't be difficult. The path was smooth, and it would be a simple matter to make good time traveling it. The problems would come later. The path hit rocky terrain that was impossible to navigate unless you were traveling by foot. To avoid this terrain, it took a lengthy path around it. While traveling that path would be easier, it would also lengthen the journey by over a week due to its length. If I crossed through the terrain, it would be harder, but it would only take a few days longer than I would have liked.

Even though I had decided on taking the more difficult route, I was still not looking forward to it. Part of me wanted to take the longer path simply because it was easier. But even though it hadn't been expressly said, the elders had strongly implied that time was of the essence for this task. This meant that the longer route, while easier, was the one I needed to avoid for the sake of speed.

When I had reached the difficult terrain, night was falling. Not wanting to try and cross it in the dark, I found a place to make camp, and after pulling my bedding out of my Pocket, magically lit a small campfire.

My first day of actual journeying was decidedly underwhelming. I was surprised. The world isn't exactly the safest place to be traveling alone. This thought did remind me of a basic precaution I should have taken. Reaching into my Pocket, I pulled out four stones, placing one at the four corners of my camping site. After the last one had been placed, an invisible barrier was erected. While not impervious, it should be enough to give me a warning should something try and attack me during the night.

The next morning, I packed up the campsite carefully, making certain that I hadn't forgotten to pack anything that I might need. I was aware that I was completely uncomfortable. I had, despite bringing bedding, managed to sleep on top of a rock that was digging into my back when I woke up. My clothes were dirty, and there was ash on my face.

Every child hears grand stories of adventures. Of the heroes we all pretended to be growing up. Why did none of these stories mention the discomfort that comes with traveling? I could have laughed. All the time I spent only five days ago bemoaning the fact that my magical skills meant I was tasked with the barrier and not with traveling the land and keeping peace, and now that I had gotten my wish I wanted nothing more than to be back at the complex.

Shaking my head and deciding to work as quickly as I could so that I could be done with this miserable experience, I started picking my way through the rough terrain.

I should have seen it coming. After all, the stones weren't exactly dark. But I was so caught up in my own misery, that I was caught off guard despite everything being in my favor.

I was focused on finding the easiest way out when I loud scream broke my focus. I had barely turned to look when black feathers were all I saw clearly, wings beating on me, though not strongly.

Reflexively, I shouted a spell and threw my attacker back, pinning it against a nearby rock. Of all the things I expected to see, this wasn't it.

She looked like a flier. But the winged ones didn't usually stray from the mountains where they made their homes. And despite only ever seeing a few fliers in my life, none of them looked like her. What on Melith was this girl wearing? Her clothes were far to thin to provide any sort of warmth on the mountains. And I had never seen anything resembling that material before. The only thing that looked normal were the wings. The rest of her was completely unusual.

She was also shouting curses at me. Those were certainly unusual curses. She had an odd accent. Definitely not from the mountains. But with wings that large, it was the only place that made sense.

“Let me go! What's the big idea holding me up like this? How are you doing this, anyway? When I get down from here you're going to regret this!”

“Considering that you won't be able to leave that rock until I let you, you might want to consider being polite to me.” Despite her strangeness, this girl was certainly amusing. “Since when do the winged ones not recognize a sorcerer when they see one?”

“Sorcerer? Winged ones? What are you talking about?”

Part of me wanted to believe this was some sort of trick. That she was trying to make me believe she was clueless so that I would release her. But there was something about her that made me wonder. She seemed genuinely terrified. And that added to her strange accent and clothes told me that something wasn't right.
“I'll make you a deal, winged one-”

“Stop calling me that! My name is Ava! Not winged one.”

“Very well, Ava. I'll make you a deal. If I let you go, you don't attack me. And I'll answer any question you have, if you answer my questions as well.” I could see her studying me just as I was studying her. I was almost impressed. She was apparently unwilling to trust me immediately.

“All right. But only if you promise not to... do whatever it is you did to pin me here in the first place.”

“A fair request. A truce, then.” I snapped my fingers and released her. Perhaps she knew about the barrier. If all went well, I could be on my way home soon. But now that I had a chance to ask her any question I desired, I could think of none.

“What's your name? I told you mine, it's only fair that I know yours.” This girl certainly wasn't shy in stating her mind.

“I don't remember winged ones being so direct. But I suppose you are correct in that I should introduce myself.. My name is Kele.”

“Kele? I'm gonna call you 'Kel.' It's easier.” She seemed to find my irritation at this shortening of my name amusing. Since when were the winged ones so immature? She looked to be close to my age, yet she was acting like a child.

“What are you doing here, Ava?” The question seemed simple enough. But the look on her face nearly had me retracting it. She looked terrified and incredibly sad.

“I... I don't know what I'm doing here. I don't even know where 'here' is. Six days ago everything was normal. Then in a freak accident, these... growths showed up. I couldn't go home. I'd be an outcast. A freak. No one likes what isn't understood. I was just trying to get to a beach so that I could be alone. Then I fell from the sky and next thing I know I'm here. I've been here for three days and I just want to go home even though I can't.”

That was definitely not an answer I expected to here. Winged ones never fell. The sky was their home more than the ground was. So how could one – wait.

“Six days ago? That was when things first became strange for you?”

“What happened to my questions?”

“There's no time for that! I have an important task to complete and I think you're involved somehow. Even if you never wanted to be. Answer my questions, and then you may ask anything of me and I promise to answer it.” She wasn't happy with that arrangement. But she nodded in resignation.

“Yes. Six days ago my life was turned completely upside down. These disgusting things on my back showed up. And they won't even work for any decent period of time.”

“You weren't born with wings?”

“Of course I wasn't born with wings! What kind of insane person are you that you thought for even a moment that these tumors were a normal thing?”

Slowly I was putting the pieces together. She definitely wasn't from these regions. That much I could tell from her clothing. But she might have been from farther away than I had first imagined.

“Ava, if I showed you a map, could you point to where you're from on it?”

“Probably, yea.”

I started to reach out to open my Pocket when I stopped. She didn't recognize my magic for what it was when I pinned her to the boulder. If my guess was correct, she had never seen magic before. That meant that if I wanted her cooperation, I would have to go to lengths not to frighten her further.

“I think when you attacked me earlier my bag went flying. The map is inside it. Wait here and I'll see if I can find it.” Walking out of her range of vision, I opened my Pocket and retrieved my bag. Walking back to her, I was relieved that she had cooperated enough to stay were she was.

“I lucked out. It wasn't very far away.” Pulling out the map, I laid it on the ground in front of her.

“Do you see your home on here?”

“What kind of map is this? I don't see anything recognizable on this. What's with this mountain region? There's no way I've never heard of a mountain range this large.”

She was from outside the barrier. Only someone from outside wouldn't recognize the Conleth Mountains. It would appear that part of my task was completed. I had found a change brought about from the barrier being tampered with. But instead of making my task simpler, it was made far more complex. The gods must be laughing at me. This was going to be a difficult explanation. Why she was here I wasn't even about to guess, but since she was here, I had an obligation to at least explain what I could.

“You're in Melith. This land is very different from your own. Here people with wings are common, in some regions at least.” Over the course of several hours I told her about my home, answering her questions as they were asked.

“But why do I have these wings? That's the one thing I still don't understand.”

“The barrier was woven from benign magics. The Five imbued their desire to keep your kind safe. I cannot say with any sort of certainty why you have wings. But if I were to guess, I would say that your fall coincided with the tampering of the barrier. Being benign in nature, the magics that were formed from it must have sensed your danger. The barrier being in an altered state must have allowed the magics to be able to act freely. Your wings were probably given to you in an attempt to save your life.”

“So why am I here? You said this 'barrier' of yours was tampered with twice. I can buy friendly magic trying to keep me safe. And if it was being tampered with both times that I was plummeting to my death, I guess I can buy it only affecting me during those times. I guess I'm just unlucky enough that both times I was falling to my death. But why send me here. It's already proven that it can change me, so why not just give me gills or something?”

“I imagine that the results of your first fall were meant to send you here. Once your wings were granted to you, the magics would have identified you as a resident of this world. They were just completing what they started by bringing you here.”

“Well, your magics aren't very good at their job. These wings that they 'granted' me don't work very well.”

“That I can help you with. I'm afraid I can't remove them. That's beyond my skills. But I can make it so that you can use them more easily. Winged ones are built differently than most people. Their bone structures are different, and they have different muscles. When your wings were given to you, I imagine that the way you were built changed as well. You have new muscles that you haven't trained yet to be strong enough to hold your for extended periods of time. The fluctuation of the barrier only lasted for a small period of time. If it had lasted longer, your wings would probably be fully functional. Instead they're only strong enough that you can use them with effort for small periods of time.

“I can magically bring these muscles to their full strength. You'll be able to use your wings at will, and your frustrations at their slow responses to your commands will cease. But it will hurt. It will very likely hurt as much as when you initially got them."

I watched Ava consider what I was offering. She was, understandably, reluctant to voluntarily put herself through even further pain simply to be able to use her wings; wings that she didn't even enjoy having.

“All right. I'll let you do it.” That surprised me. For someone who hated having wings at all, she was surprisingly willing to put herself through agony to be able to use them. I was impressed.

“All right. And I promise that, if you wish, once my task is complete I'll take you to the elders so that they can attempt to remove your wings.” She seemed happy to hear that.

“What do you need me to do?”

“Absolutely nothing.” Walking behind her, I focused on what I needed to do. Gathering the magic into a single, focused point, I laid my hand directly between the base of her wings, letting the magic move through me and into her, strengthening the muscles.

As I had known would happen, she let out a scream of pain. Loud enough that I wondered if I shouldn't have placed the ward stones down before doing this. They wouldn't have stopped anything from hearing her screams, but they would have bought me time should anything attack.

Mercifully, the process was a short one, and I was soon able to remove my hand.

“Are you all right, Ava?”

“I think so. Though I don't think I want to try out these supposedly enhanced muscles any time soon. Don't you have any magical way to get rid of the pain?”

“There's no need to. It will fade soon enough.

“I do wonder, though, if you've been here by yourself for two days, how have you survived?”

“I grew up on a mountain. I know how to identify poisonous plants, and there's fresh water just over there.” The look she gave me implied that she considered me unintelligent.

“As glad as I am to have helped you, Ava, I do have a task to accomplish. As you were affected by the barrier's tampering, I think it would be best if you came with me. That way, once my task is complete, I can immediately take you to the elders.” Part of me wondered if I would regret this. This girl would never be able to hide in a crowd. Even if she didn't have those large wings, with her clothing, anyone would be able to identify her as being an outsider.“Well, if it's the easiest way to get rid of these things, then fine. I guess I have no choice.”

“Then get up. We don't have time to waste while you sit there and think about the fact that you're in pain.” I didn't wait to see if she would listen to me, instead turning and heading off.

“Wait. Just let me get my bag. It has some spare clothes.”

“Leave it. I have money. I'll get you clothes that don't stand out.” The sooner I could get her into normal clothes, the better. Or at least clothing that wasn't so garishly colored.

“What's wrong with what I'm wearing? I'll have you know that these clothes are very popular back at home.”

“If we were in your home, then that would be fine. But we're not, and you stand out in what you're wearing.” Honestly, how thick was this girl? I couldn't help but roll my eyes. I thought she understood that we weren't in her home. Why would she expect what was popular on the other side to be popular here?

“Did you miss the wings? I don't think I'll be hiding in a crowd any time soon. Where do you plan on finding clothes that will still allow these things to move when I need them to?”

I stopped walking at that. She had point. Fliers tended to stay in the mountains. It would be difficult if not impossible to find clothing for her that would still enable her to fly but wouldn't be so obviously different.

“Do you at least have anything that's not made of such thin material and isn't bright green?”

At that question, she stopped and looked down at her clothing, an almost sheepish grin on her face.

“Yea, I hate this shirt, too. A friend decided that bright green would go with my eyes because they're green. But the shade she picked is obnoxious. I only kept it because she's a good friend. Give me a few minutes to change, I have some darker colored shirts in my bag.”

Walking off, she came back, true to her word, wearing a different shirt, this one a dark red. A bag was slung over her shoulder, presumably the one she had intended to get earlier.

“If you're finally ready to get moving, I've lost several hours already.”

“If your magic is so great, you should be able to just teleport to wherever it is you're going.”

“Teleportation is beyond my ability. Only a very few have the power to do that. The rest of us have to travel the conventional way.”

“Is anything not 'beyond your ability? You couldn't remove my wings, you can't teleport. Tell me. What can you do? Change your eye color from hazel to green when the light hits them just right? Or maybe change your hair color from brown to bright pink. You have to be the worst excuse for a magical person I've ever seen. You're definitely no Merlin.”

“Merlin? How do you know of him? I would have thought that those beyond the barrier would have lost their history.”

“Wait. Merlin was real? And King Arthur? And Camelot?”

King?” I couldn't help but laugh at her sudden enthusiasm. “Apparently those on the other side of the barrier don't remember their history beyond a few names.

“Yes, Merlin was real. He was the greatest sorcerer ever to walk Melith. And, yes there really was an Arthur. He was the greatest fighter that their hometown of Camelot had ever produced.

“The two were born during the tail end of a war. With Merlin's magic, and Arthur's strength, people rallied behind them. The stories say that they almost single handedly turned the tide of battle. When the war was over, they were the ones credited with the victory. Despite Arthur's fighting prowess, it was Merlin who people remember. He was the one to first master our most complicated spells. Spells such as teleportation. They also say he was the first and last sorcerer to be able to summon creatures of magic to do his bidding, though there is no proof of that. He was the one who trained the Five years later.”

“So is everyone here magical or something?”

“No. The ones who the barrier was formed for couldn't survive for another reason. They were a group of people who refused to fight. Refused to defend themselves for any reason. The barrier came about because another war was brewing. One that promised to be far larger and more destructive than the last. Your first people were starting to be captured or killed. The first calling of all sorcerers is to protect all life to the best of our abilities. Since it would have been impractical for all of us to protect your kind, the five decided to weave the barrier. It took them from the battlefield, but they did the most good.

“The war lasted for centuries, with new sorcerers taking up the call of maintaining the barrier as the years passed. When the war was over, it was decided that your people had been too long away from this world. The shock would have been too great. We also had no way of knowing what changes you had made for yourselves. We were able to sense that there was life, but that was all. We knew nothing of your lives or achievements. For the continued safety of your people, it was deemed that the barrier needed to be maintained.”

“And that was what your job was going to be. But I don't get why you're the only one that could sense the barrier being tampered with.”

“I have a rare gift. One only seen once every few centuries. When powerful spells are woven, I can sense them. I can't sense what they're for, or pinpoint their origin, but-” I stopped when I saw that, instead of focusing on where I was headed, I was too busy talking to this girl.
Thanks to that mistake, I was hopelessly lost. I couldn't even backtrack with any sort of confidence.

I looked at the girl next to me. Her body was still sore. I had noticed that, despite her keeping pace with me admirably, the way she held her body told me that she was still in pain. However, her wings were the only way we could possibly navigate out of here.

< Message edited by Gingkage -- 2/1/2014 14:04:44 >
AQ DF MQ  Post #: 2
1/10/2014 15:08:05   
Wolf Rider

I didn't like the look that Kel was giving me. Sure, I guess I owed him since he allegedly made my wings strong enough to hold me for sustained flight – though given his apparent magic ineptitude I wasn't completely sold on that – but that calculating look made me nervous. What was he staring at me for? And why did he stop, anyway? I thought we were in some kind of hurry.

This was going to be a long trip if I had to keep putting up with this jerk. He could have made the pain in my body go away. But he didn't for no reason other than 'it will fade eventually.' Well eventually is still a long time to go without any sort of pain killers.

“Ava, I realize that you're still in pain. But I need you to see if you can find a path I can follow from above. If you can get us to the road, I'll be able to get my bearings.”

If looks could kill, this guy would be six feet under. He knew I was still in pain, yet he wanted me to fly. Surely I didn't owe him that much? Then again, if I helped him, maybe this miserable experience would be over with more quickly.

Dropping my bag, I focused on my wings and was surprised at how quickly – and loudly – they snapped out. Okay, so this moron wasn't completely incompetent. But I wasn't about to believe he was as strong as he claimed.

Angling my wings downward, I shot upwards with one deep flap. Leveling my flight, I looked around. Things certainly looked different from the air. From the ground, I couldn't see much in the way of a discernible path. From up here, though, I slowly managed to make one out.

Now where was this road he was wanting me to find? Looking around, circling in the air in a way that reminded me of a vulture, I scanned the ground. There it was.

There was no quick and easy way to get to it, though. We would have to backtrack for a few miles, and then make our way over some really rocky terrain.

I suppose part of me was glad for the company. And at least I had answers now, which was more than I could have said this morning.

When I woke up after hitting the water, my first thought was amazement that I hadn't died. When I saw all the rocks, I assumed I'd gotten extremely lucky and managed to wash onto the shore of the beach I had been aiming for.

Except there was no water. Which was impossible since I distinctly remembered hitting it. So where was I? I spent quite a bit of time panicking. I was in an impossible situation. Losing consciousness in one area, and waking up in an entirely different one. I'd even tried to use my wings to get my bearings, only becoming more panicked when nothing was even remotely familiar.

Too afraid to wander from where I was, I just stayed there for two days, eking out a survival of some kind.

When I'd heard Kel coming, I thought it was a monster that wanted to kill me. As furious as I was to be restrained like that, it was almost a relief. The fact that he was talking to me meant that he was probably not intending to kill me.

Once he'd finally figured out that I wasn't from... whatever he called this place, he answered all of my questions patiently, sometimes answering the same one multiple times since the answers he was giving me were too incredible to believe. I still wasn't sure I believed them, despite the evidence of what I'd seen.

Despite the answers this annoying sorcerer gave me being just as impossible as the situation I'd woken up to two days ago, at least I had some. I even had companionship... of a sort. Though considering how aggravating this guy is, I might be better off alone.

Shaking my head to clear it, and then regretting that since it threw off my balance, I did my best to memorize the path we'd need to take. Though it would probably be easier to just fly low enough to the ground that Kel could see me, and high enough that I could see the path I'd picked out.

Dropping down in front of him, I relayed what I'd seen.

“The best way to make sure you don't lose the path would be for you to fly above it. I can keep up without a problem. I'll even store your bag in my Pocket so it won't get lost or damaged.”

I wanted to hit this guy. He was the one who got lost in the first place, and yet I was the one who was getting him out of it. Then he has the gall to make it sound like it was all his idea. He even made it sound like he was doing me a favor by storing my bag in his magic invisible pocket.

Glaring at him and plotting ways to kill him in his sleep, I again shot upwards, taking a few moments to reorient myself and find the path.

Once I'd found it, I set off, a malicious part of me wanting to fly too fast for him to keep up with me. I think that the only thing that stopped me from doing that is he was the only one who could get to my things. Which also meant that, despite how great it would feel, I couldn't actually kill him in his sleep.

Flying slowly, I took a moment to, surprisingly, enjoy myself. Flying was just as amazing as everyone thinks it would be. As much as I wanted to hate these growths on my back, while I was flying, I couldn't bring myself to feel any animosity towards them.

I really did feel like I was free while I was in the air. I was tempted to take off simply for the sake of flying. While it wasn't worth the pain I went through to get these wings, a part of me was almost glad that I had them.

Before I had gotten even halfway through the backtracking that was needed, it was getting too dark to see. With a sigh of resignation – since while I was in the air, I didn't have to deal with the jerk down there – I angled my wings downward to land right in front of Kel.

Despite his obvious annoyance at having to stop, he did understand why, which I suppose was a silver lining.

Despite having seen him do so already, watching him reach a hand up and pull something out of thin air was still chilling to see. Pulling out four stones, he gave me two of them and told me to place them at two corners of the campsite. To my shame, I jumped in surprise when a wall appeared.

Walking back, I saw that Kel had started a campfire. But the best thing I had seen in several days was the honest meal that he had. It wasn't a lot of food, and there wasn't much in the way of variety, but for the past six days I'd survived on only two types of food. The small sandwiches that he'd made for the two of us looked as amazing as fare from the best restaurant at home to me.

“I thought you said you were able to find food?” At the surprise in Kel's tone, I looked at what had moments ago been a full sandwich. Now all that was left of it was a few bites.

“Some food. I guess I was hungrier than I realized. Though I think it was more that I was excited to have something different for the first time in a few days.” I was embarrassed. I had never been the type to wolf down my food like that. Even more embarrassing, I was still hungry.

With a sigh of resignation, Kel reached into his invisible Pocket and pulled out his bag. Reaching inside, he pulled out a second bag that held the food, handing it to me with a warning to not eat it all. That was... surprisingly decent of him.

Digging through the bag, I found a few small things and made a rude sandwich out of them, eating that one at a much slower pace.

“You said this place was dangerous. Will we need to set up watches or something?”

“The wards will alert me if anything tries to disturb us. But there is wisdom in having a watch. I'll take the first one.” Handing me my bag, he turned and pointed to a place where I would have enough room for my bedding.

Since in my flight I hadn't thought to grab anything resembling bedding, I curled up next to the fire for warmth, falling asleep faster than I would have thought possible, considering how much I had to think about.

It felt like I had barely fallen asleep when Kel was shouting for me to wake up. Shooting awake, I looked around, trying to see the danger.

When I saw it, I didn't know what I was looking at. They looked almost like panthers. Only they had bat wings and sabertooth fangs. And seemed to be made of something not flesh and blood.

“Ava, protect yourself!”

“With what? I don't have any weapons or magic.”

“Then launch into the air. Even as a novice flier you'll be able to fly faster than they can. Stay in the air until I signal you that we're safe.”

I didn't want to leave him. He was a rude, insensitive jerk, but he'd been nothing but kind to me. And I was leaving him to face these five... things on his own. But if I stayed on the ground, I knew I would only get in the way. There was no sense in getting both of us killed simply because I couldn't do anything.

Flapping my wings as hard and as fast as I could, I climbed upwards, leveling my flight after I was several feet up. Looking behind me, I saw that two of those things were on me. Letting out a curse, I flapped harder, urging my wings to move faster.

I thought that Kel must have been wrong. He said I would be faster in the air than them. But it seemed they were keeping pace just fine. I was grateful for one thing, though. I wasn't in a mountainous region. There was nothing to get in the way of my flight.

I looked behind me and they were closer than they had been. Grateful for the bright moon, I urged myself to fly faster. The fact that I was still sore from whatever it was Kel had done was working against me. The pain in my back was slowing me down, even though I was trying to keep my speed.

I let out a scream of pain when I felt claws rake across my right leg, swerving to the left to try and escape.

Desperate, I flapped my wings as hard as I could, trying to fly higher than they could. Then an idea occurred to me. It was stupid. I could very easily kill myself if it didn't work. But these things were doing too good of a job keeping up with me. If I was almost definitely going to die, then I would go having tried my hardest to save myself.

I slowed my flight so that they could keep up with me more easily, but not actually catch me. When I was almost high enough, I shot upwards as fast as I could, wanting a bit more distance for this stunt. After I had reached the height I wanted, I angled myself downwards and, in the most idiotic and courageous thing I had ever done, folded my wings.

Judging from the roars as I narrowly avoided the panther things, my plan was working. Though I couldn't look behind me to see if I was right or not. Every second I was falling I kept getting faster. Which was terrifying to feel. I was more grateful than ever for the moon. It meant I could see when the ground was approaching.

What I hadn't counted on was my eyes tearing up from the wind hitting them. Madly blinking them clear, I let out a scream when suddenly the ground was rushing up at me.

Using what felt like every muscle in my back, I threw open my wings, managing to avoid hitting the ground at the last second. Though with the pain in my back, I couldn't stay in the air for very long. Hearing a loud thud behind me, I saw that the creatures chasing me hadn't been able to predict that particular stunt and had hit the ground.

Not wanting to stick around and see if they were alive, I slowly and painfully flared my wings and flapped upwards. I couldn't fly very high both because of how dizzy I was and how much pain I was in. The panther must have done more damage than I had thought.

Seeing a bright light shoot upwards, similar to a flare from back home, I figured that Kel must have finished off the three that were on him.

In a half flying, half limping manner, I slowly made my way back to camp.

When I got back, Kel was looking impatient. He was also hurt.

“What happened?”

“I faced three Shadow Terrors. You expected me to be just fine? A sorcerer is weakest when the monsters are on top of him. Even our simplest spells take time and concentration to weave. When the attackers are at a distance, I have no worries about the outcome of a battle. This time I didn't have the luxury of distance.”

He seemed to only then notice my leg.

“I thought you were smart enough to keep your distance from them?”

“I tried. You're the one who doesn't know enough about monsters to realize that they could keep up with me just fine.”

“That shouldn't have been possible. Shadow Terrors are known to be slow in the air. They're not actually designed for fast flight. It's simply how they choose to ambush their prey.”

“Well someone forgot to tell the two that chased me that. Because they kept up with me just fine. I only got away because I managed to get them to crash into the ground. Otherwise I'd still be running for my life.”

“You're fortunate. If these had been the black ones instead of the gray, you'd be dead by now. The black ones have a fast acting paralytic venom in their claws. If the fall didn't kill you, being ripped open by their fangs and claws would have. But I'm more concerned about them being able to fly quickly.”

“Well it's not like I was able to fly at my fastest. Being in pain doesn't do much for speed.” If I could have, I would have killed him. Because of his inconsiderate actions earlier, I nearly lost my life.

“Even flying at less than top speed, you should have still been able to easily outpace them.” Walking towards me, Kel put a hand just above my leg. After a few moments, he moved it away, and I saw that it was healed. He then repeated the process on my back.

“Your leg will scar, but you'll be able to walk on it without pain. I'm not of the Healing Domain, or I would have been able to do a better job.”

“Healing Domain?”

“There are several minor Domains. Though they tend to be grouped into two broad ones. There's the Combat Domain, where your strongest spells are those meant to be used in battle. And there's the Healing Domain where your arts are better able to heal wounds than inflict them. People from either Domain can use spells outside of their natural one, but they don't come as easily, and take more energy than someone from that Domain would need. I have a friend in the Healing Domain. She would have been able to heal your leg so that there wasn't so much as a scratch on it.”

“So then you're in the Combat Domain.”

“Yes I am. And you should go back to sleep, Ava. My watch isn't over yet.” Kel had a strange look on his face as he said that. He looked almost guilty. Which didn't make sense. It's not like he summoned those things. Part of me wanted to argue. But now that the adrenaline from fleeing for my life had worn off, I was exhausted.

Lying down in my earlier makeshift bed, I decided that I would figure out Kel after I'd woken up. For now, I just wanted to sleep.

< Message edited by Gingkage -- 1/10/2014 15:09:39 >
AQ DF MQ  Post #: 3
1/10/2014 15:10:06   
Wolf Rider

I tried not to, but every few seconds, my eyes kept being drawn to Ava's leg. I had done the best I could, and I believed that I'd gotten to it soon enough that there would be no lasting damage. But her injuries were still my fault.

Reaching into my Pocket, I dug through my bag until I found the contact stone. This was the source of my shame. I should have taken her back to the elders immediately. They would have wanted to know about this. They definitely would have wanted to meet with Ava and discuss what she went through.

But I was selfish. As miserable as I felt when I woke up this morning, for the first time in years I was free. Going back to the elders would have delayed this task. They might even have decided to send someone else instead of me, again trapping me inside the complex.

If I had done my duties instead of deciding to press on and hopefully become someone remembered by history, Ava would have never gotten hurt. This girl was a stranger here. She didn't know of all the dangers this world had to offer. It was my duty to keep her safe. And I had failed in that duty in every imaginable way.

Sighing, I decided to do the right thing. Better late than never.

Focusing my magic onto the stone, I felt it warm up considerably. Shortly after, an image of one of the elders appeared.

“Reporting already, Kele? What have you discovered?”

“Elder, this afternoon I met someone from outside the barrier who was affected by the tampering of it. The magics of the barrier granted her wings. The second time it was tampered with, she was sent to our world.”

“Why are you just now informing us of this?”

“I have no excuse, Elder. Instead of doing my duty and returning to the complex with her, I decided to press on, bringing this girl, Ava, with me.” Even from the distance we were apart, the glare the elder sent my way had me recoiling in fear.

“This is unacceptable, Kele. You should have reported this to us and immediately headed back. You will head back to the complex first thing in the morning, bring the girl with you. We will want to speak with her.”

“Is the girl allowed to speak?”

I looked up in shock. I had thought Ava to be soundly sleeping.

“Look, I don't know how different things are around here, but where I'm from, there's a saying. 'In for a penny, in for a pound.' Now I promised Kel – I mean Kele – that I'd help him with this task of his. And I fully intend to keep that promise. Now you can drag Kele here back to your little fortress if you want. But you can't make me come, and you can't make me stay. And even if you can, you can't make me decide to tell you what I know. Keep me there against my will, and you'll be kidnapping – adultnapping – whatever. You'll still be doing something wrong.

“I'm a big girl. I can look after myself. And besides, I want to find whoever it was that's responsible for this. And when I do, he's going to get a piece of my mind. Kel seems to be my best bet at this. So let him finish his little task, and I promise that when it's all said and done I'll let you interrogate me, or whatever it is you're planning to do.”

I was surprised. If nothing else, this girl wasn't lacking in courage. No one dared talk to an elder like that. And even though I didn't quite know what this 'penny' was, I was grateful to her for being willing to speak up for me.

“Remain where you are, Kele. I will discuss this with the elders and contact you with our decision in the morning. Dismissed.”

Ava looked at me, something akin to amusement on her face.

“You realize that that guy's a pig, right? Only a pig would talk down to you like that. And he's fat, so that makes him even more of a pig.”

“He is a respected elder, and one of the strongest sorcerers in the land.”

“Still a pig.” In an instant, the amusement in her expression turned to anger.

“Now what was that about you being obligated to turn around immediately?”

“The elders wanted to know all I could find about the effects of the barrier, from both worlds.”

“Meaning because you didn't do what you were supposed to, we got attacked. We could have been in safety right this second. My injuries are your fault.”

I averted my gaze in shame.

“You are correct. It is my fault that you were injured. I apologize.”

For a long moment, nothing was said. Then Ava let out a sigh.

“What was that phrase my parents and grandparents always used? 'No use crying over spilled milk'? I think that was it. What's done is done. I don't suppose there's any point in giving you grief over it. Besides, if what you said is true, those... what did you call them? Shadow Terrors?” she paused and looked at me for confirmation, which I quickly gave. “If what you said is true, those Shadow Terrors weren't your usual breed. If they had been normal, I wouldn't have gotten injured. And that's certainly not your fault. Unless it is, but if you were trying to kill me, you'd come up with a less messy way of doing it.”

“What makes you say that?”

“Because if it was messy, you might get blood on your clothes. Seriously, after healing my leg, you fussed with your clothing and your hair, and making sure you were completely pristine. You're worse than some girls I know.”

“Appreciation of cleanliness doesn't make me effeminate. It simply makes me appreciative of things being properly clean.”

“You're still worse than some girls I know.”

I glared at her, but only for a moment. She meant no harm in her words, and I was more concerned about my appearance than many people that I knew.

Then I remembered that I had a question for her.

“What exactly is a 'penny'? You mentioned it in that odd phrase you used earlier with the elder.”

She gave me an odd look, as if she was surprised that I didn't know this. Then she seemed to remember that she wasn't in her home anymore.

“A penny is a really useless piece of currency. Literally no one uses them anymore. I'm not quite sure what the phrase means, to tell you the truth. But I think it means in that if you commit to something in a small way, you should commit to it in a large way. A pound is another type of currency that's worth a bit more than a penny is. I've heard it used in TV shows, and a few friends of mine use it on occasion, but this is actually the first time I thought about what it might actually mean.”

I nodded. I still didn't quite understand these types of currency, but I did understand the intent behind the strange phrase she had used.

“So what's the currency here?”

“We use gold, silver, and copper coins for our purchases.”

“Wow. Now I feel like I'm in the middle ages or something. No one uses those metals for anything except decorative items back home. I know that some coins used to be made out of copper or silver, but it was too expensive to keep producing those, so they used other metals instead. I guess you have mines for that stuff, though.”

“Yes, we do. In fact, if the elders give us permission to continue on this journey, the first town that we'll come to is right next to a very prosperous gold mine.”

“Why not just go, whatever the elders say?”

“Because the elders are our leaders. It would be wrong to defy them.”

“You know what you are, Kel? You're a stick in the mud. Never doing anything that you weren't told to do. Never having your own life.”

“And I suppose you were a rebellious child? Always doing what you please, even if you were told not to?”

“I – well...” I couldn't help but smirk in satisfaction at this. Ava had no argument. Meaning she was just as obedient towards her authority figures.

“Okay, so maybe I didn't rebel all the time. But that's because my parents let me have my own life. They set rules to keep me safe, but beyond that let me make my own mistakes for myself.”

“And the decisions the elders make are with the safety of all of us in mind. Defying them would be akin to you defying your parents on a rule that was set to keep you safe. The decision of the elders is final. It has always been final. I will not defy them.”

Ava didn't really seem to understand. She seemed to think that since we were both adults, and that I was capable of surviving without aid, I should be free to make my own decisions. She did let the subject die, however, choosing to go back to sleep.

When the time for my watch had ended, I woke up Ava, but being too anxious to sleep I stayed up with her for an hour.

Ava's world was fascinating. It sounded strange, and terrifying, but a small part of me hoped that there would be a reason for me to see it. For every one thing that she described, it seemed like I had three questions to ask about it.

I had more questions to ask, but stilled my curiosity. I remembered when I first came to the complex how much I missed my home. How much I missed my friends, and family, and all the familiar things I had left behind. When I actually payed attention to Ava and not to what she was talking about, I saw those same emotions on her face. It had not occurred to me that thinking of her home would be painful to her. Feigning exhaustion, I retired for the night, resolving to not bring up her home unless it was relevant to whatever we were discussing.

The next morning, when I woke, I quietly prepared a small breakfast for both Ava and myself. The elder said that we would be contacted this morning, but that could have meant any time. Ava and I could conceivably be here at our campsite for several hours.

As I had believed, it was a few hours before my contact stone started glowing. Not wanting to risk the wrath of the elders, I quickly grabbed the stone and focused my magic into it.

“Elder. Have you and the Council reached a decision?”

“We have, Kele. We have decided that your task is too important to waste time returning to us. You are to complete your task, keeping this girl safe until we have had the chance to speak with her. You are to contact us regularly with updates on your task. In your bag is a second pouch with additional funds. Use them wisely. May the spirits of the Five protect you.”

“Thank you, Elder.” I bowed my head differentially, holding the respectful pose until the elder broke contact with me.

“So you deified those five sorcerers that formed the barrier?”

“The Five are the role models of all sorcerers. They were the ones who followed the code that we live by, protect all life to its furthest and truly embodied it. We have gods, and we respect them. But to wish a sorcerer protection respectfully, you would not wish the gods watch over them, you would wish the spirits of the Five to do so.”

“So basically they're deities. You may not pray to them, or make sacrifices, but if you make oaths in their names, all but revere them, you've essentially turned them into gods. So, yes, you deified those five people. I guess there are worse fates.”

“I take it you don't believe in deities of any kind?”

“I don't believe in much of anything from this place. But I don't see the point in wishing luck granted from dead people who probably can't be bothered to do anything to help you.”

“If you had grown up here, you would understand.”

“I guess so. But I didn't.”

“It was the spirits of the Five that protected you. The magic that was woven into the barrier, while sustained by others, is the same today as it was thousands of years ago. We never changed it. If they had never woven that barrier, you would have died.”

Ava paused at that, wings flared to launch her upwards.

“Maybe. But it was still coincidence that the barrier was being tampered with as I was falling. That wasn't your five ghosts. That was someone living and breathing.

“And I don't see the point in revering dead people. Sure, you honor them, you remember them, but you don't ask for their protection from danger. If you get yourself into trouble, then you get yourself out of it.”

Before I could respond to that, Ava had launched herself into the air. After circling for a few moments to get her bearings, she lowered her flight so that I could see her more easily, and led me on the quickest route to the path possible.

“All right. You said you wanted back to the path so that you could go back into the rocks,” Ava said, landing in front of me. “Do you know a quick path, or am I finding it for you?”

“Unfortunately, Ava, since we're not at the beginning of the path, I have no reference from which to get my bearings. It will be slower, but ultimately following the path runs the best chance of us not getting turned around.”

“Except I saw what looked to be very clear, if winding, paths in those rocks. Let me see your map.”

Placing the map on the ground, she pointed to a mountain on its surface.

“Isn't this that mountain over there?” Looking in the direction that she was pointing, I saw that the mountains were the same.

“Well your mountain is a really big landmark, don't you think? According to your map, the nearest town is due north of that mountain. Maybe it's from living outside all my life, maybe it's just one of those quirks some people have, but I've always been able to tell which direction north is. I can get you through those rocks. It will still take a few days, but in the long run it'll be faster than following this path.”

I carefully studied the map, using the mountain as a landmark as Ava suggested. She was correct in saying that the town we were heading towards was north of that mountain. If she could truly navigate the rocks as she claimed, then I would be a fool not to take advantage of this.

“Very well, Ava. You've convinced me. If you think you can navigate those rocks accurately, then I'll trust you.”

“I don't think I can, Kel,” Ava replied with an amused smirk. “I know I can get you through those. Just try to keep up.”

Launching into the air, she barely waited long enough for me to return the map to my Pocket before taking off, navigating a long and winding path through the rocky plain.

Launching into the air, she barely waited long enough for me to return the map to my Pocket before taking off, navigating a long and winding path through the rocky plain.

To my surprise, Ava was in fact incredibly good at finding a path through the stones. She was able to find paths from above that I would never have seen from the ground.

When she finally landed due to exhaustion, she had led me almost to the end of the plain. She proved equally adept at finding paths on the ground, though she took paths that I would not have due to their being more difficult. By the time I set up camp for the night, we were almost to the town. We would reach it early in the morning.

“Ava, this is important, so listen carefully. When we get to the town, I need you to conceal yourself somewhere outside of it.”

“Why? I haven't done anything wrong.”

“No, but I still need you to do this. Find a place to hide outside the town, and wait for me there. I'll go in for a few minutes, and then come back out.” Ava glared at me. I knew that she wasn't happy with this, but it was the best option. It would only be for a short period of time, after all. I held her gaze for a very long moment. If I needed to, I could always weave a spell to keep her hidden somewhere, but I didn't want to do that if I didn't have to.

Finally, with an irritated glare, Ava conceeded.

The next morning, true to her word, when we were a few miles from the town, Ava found a place to conceal herself and made herself comfortable.

“I'll be back. Promise me that you'll stay here.”

“I already said I would, Kele. I keep my word once I've given it.”

Moving quickly, I managed to get what I needed from the town within a few minutes of being there. By the time I got back to Ava, I would only have been gone half an hour.

When I got back, Ava was gone.
AQ DF MQ  Post #: 4
1/10/2014 15:13:00   
Wolf Rider

I think I hate this world.

It's not that I'm homesick, though I suppose that that's playing a small part as well. It's that this world is terrible. Everything around me looks so similar to what I've grown up with, and yet there's something fundamentally wrong about it as well. Something so small and subtle that I can't quite put my finger on it. Every time I try to place what it is, my skin crawls uncomfortably, and I feel vaguely ill.

Then, just my luck, as I was minding my own business waiting for Kel to get back so we could get going, a group of travelers started coming up the path.

If I had been paying attention to what was going on around me, I would have noticed them far earlier than I did. Instead, I saw them just too late to avoid their notice as I tried to move further into my hiding place.

“Who's there? What are you doing in those bushes?” The man demanding these answers held out some sort of weapon. At least, I assumed it was a weapon from his stance. It wasn't anything I recognized. It looked like a hollow stick.

Thinking that they believed me to be a robber of some sort, I decided to allay their worries.

“Sorry. I didn't mean to scare you. I'm just waiting for a friend of mine,” I said, stepping out into the open with a friendly smile. “My name is -”

“Cursed one!” The man pointed his stick more directly towards me and the next thing I know there's some sort of green fire shooting out at me.

Reflexively, I launched myself into the air, taking off as fast as I could and wanting to get out of that man's line of sight.

After perhaps five minutes of the man cursing me, he and his party kept on towards the town. Not wanting to land and risk someone else seeing me, I stayed in the air, hoping to see Kel and get some answers from him.

I wasn't up there for very long. Only ten minutes or so. Then I hear Kel screaming for me to get back there. Relieved to see a friendly face, I landed in front of him, having seen no one coming from any direction.

“Where were you? You promised you'd stay hidden!”

“Look, I can explain. These people came and spotted me. I just wanted to let them know I wasn't a thief or anything. Then this guy called me a cursed one and spit some sort of green fire at me from this hollow stick. I didn't feel safe on the ground. No one looks up, meaning I was safe as long as I was flying.”

Kel gave me a look of pity.

“I was afraid that this would happen, though I had hoped that it wouldn't. That was why I didn't want you going into the town with me. Fliers like yourself are rarely seen outside the mountains. Many people are afraid of them, believing that their wings were given to them through a curse.” Looking around, he motioned for me to follow him back to where I was hidden earlier. Crouching down, he continued his explanation.

“The 'hollow stick' as you described it is an artifact. Wealthy people can procure them from sorcerers. It enables them to use small amounts of magic without actually having the ability to do so.” Holding out his hand, he showed me a necklace. It was simple, but pretty. A green piece of glass tied to a piece of leather like material.

“I don't see how a necklace is going to make me feel better, Kel. I'm not exactly girly.”

“I've woven a spell onto this necklace. So long as you wear it, your wings will be hidden. You'll still be able to use them, and if anyone touches them, they'll know that they're there, but it should keep most people from knowing about your wings. If you keep them tucked close to your body, you should be able to avoid most mishaps.”

I was surprisingly touched. It was a thoughtful gesture from him.

“Why couldn't you have just woven this spell onto me?”

“I could have, but it's easier to weave a spell onto a small object like the necklace. Less energy is used and if I were to weave it onto you, I would have to constantly maintain it. With the necklace acting as both focus and catalyst, the spell maintains itself. And don't worry, you won't need it all the time. There are some places where fliers aren't considered to be cursed.”

Taking the necklace from him, I put it around my neck. It was close fitting, barely going past my throat. Looking at my wings, they slowly faded from sight. It was eerie, watching them disappear like that. I had to reach up and touch one, and flare them simply to reassure myself that they were still there. I wasn't sure why I needed this reassurance. After all, I didn't even like these wings. And now I had even more reason to hate them. But after so long having them constantly in the corner of my eye, it felt strange not seeing them at all.

“Now then, let's go to town and have an actual meal. The food the elders provided may be perfect for traveling, but it does get boring after a while.”

When we got to the town, I couldn't help but look at everything like some kind of tourist. It looked like a stereotypical mining town. Like what I would see in those really bad Western movies my friends loved watching. There were some differences, of course. A large difference was that, while the buildings were labeled, I couldn't read anything. The letters here were strange. They were recognizable, but like everything else in this world, there was still something off about them.

Following Kel, who didn't seem to notice my discomfort, he quickly led me into a restaurant. Or at least what looked like a restaurant to me, though I was sure that if I were to ask, Kel would tell me that there was a different name for it than what I was familiar with.

Grabbing the elbow of the girl who pointed us to a table, Kel gave instructions on how to prepare his food before sitting down.

The food was delicious, even if the meat wasn't recognizable as anything I'd ever eaten before.

“So how are you going to go about getting information on who tampered the barrier?”

“Well, it's not going to be easy. Most people can't sense magic, and very few are aware of the barrier's existence.”

“So you can't ask about it.”

“Exactly. I do, however, know what would be needed to weave a spell that large. Two of those things can be found anywhere, and so aren't good for starting points. But the third thing needed is space to weave a spell as large as the one that I felt.”

“Does it need to be empty?”

“Not necessarily. A large room with chairs and tables and other sorts of decorations would work just as well as a large empty space. Though in general it's preferred to have an empty space. But there are only a few places large enough for the spell to be properly woven.”

“So you're just going to go to every one of them?” I didn't think it was the greatest plan. For one, it sounded like it would be a lengthy task. For another, what if whoever was tampering with the barrier was using a smaller place? There was no way to no for certain where to look. Meaning even Kel's best guess was just going to be a guess.

“Yes. I don't know how long it will take for me to find the correct place, but I'm going to try. I have to.”

“Well, I already promised to go with you, so I guess I'm in for the long haul. Though if those Shadow Terrors are everywhere in the world, I think we need to find a better strategy than trying and failing to outfly them.” Kel looked thoughtfu.

“I don't suppose you know how to fight?”

“No, I never needed to at home. You don't have any hollow sticks for me to use?”

“No, I don't have an artifact that you can use to defend yourself with. Though I know that this town will have a place to buy weapons. It shouldn't be hard to find something for you to use.”

“I know how to use a bow and arrow.” The look Kel gave me was almost laughable, except I couldn't blame him for his surprise since from what I'd told him of my home, bows and arrows weren't used. I knew that they were used here since one of the people in the party that attacked me had one.

“My school had an archery team. I was actually the school champion. Those were stationary targets, but I at least know the basics.”

“I suppose it's better than nothing. I'll find you a bow and arrows, then. I can spell the quiver to never run out of arrows if I need to.” Standing up, Kel placed the money for our meal on the table and walked out.

Leading me into the weapon shop, it was obvious that he had no idea about bows or arrows. I was far from an expert, but the archery team from my school required us to learn about bows and arrows before we were allowed to touch them. If we couldn't pass a test on the tools needed, we were forbidden from using them.I was confident that I could easily find a bow to use here. My confidence disappeared the moment I actually looked at the bows on offer.

Everything here was different than what the archery team used. The shapes of the bows were different, and these bows were made of wood where the ones the archery team used were made of some sort of metal. For a moment, I nearly suggested saying that this was a bad idea and leaving before taking a closer look at the bows. They were different, but their should at least be a bow that was similar enough to the one I was familiar with that I would be competent with it.

Looking carefully, I found a bow that was almost identical to the one I had used for the archery team. Grabbing it, I spent a moment simply feeling the wood in my hand. It was cool to the touch, and smooth. I liked the feel of it more than the one I used in school. Testing the pull, I was happy to find that it was comfortable, and easy to draw back.

“This one.”

“Are you sure, Ava? This bow looks more impressive, and according to the shopkeeper, the materials are better.”

“And you're a moron. This bow is the one I'm familiar with.” Kel glared at me, but eventually conceded and bought the bow I had chosen, along with a quiver of arrows.

I quickly ran into the same problem with the quiver as I had had with my duffel bag. I couldn't fit it on my back without it pressing uncomfortably against my wings.

“Bear with it for now. When we leave the town, you can take off the necklace and arrange the quiver so that it fits comfortably over your wings.”

“We can't spend the day here? I haven't slept in a real bed for a week. I haven't even had a chance to take a real bath, having to settle for getting the worst of the grime off of me.

Kel sighed, looking irritated with me, but I guess he wanted to sleep in a real bed, too, since he didn't argue with me. Leading me to the inn, he payed for a room for the night.

Once we got to the room, since Kel was too stingy to rent two rooms, I covered the window and took off the necklace. Flaring my wings, I carefully positioned the quiver so that it rested comfortably between my wings. Keeping my wings closed was more difficult with the quiver on, but it wasn't impossible. Being sure to be as quiet as possible, I flapped my wings a few times experimentally. It was slightly more difficult than it was before, but the quiver didn't hinder my flight, so I was satisfied.

“Ava! Not here. It's too easy to make a mistake. When we're inside towns, the necklace stays on! It's the safest option.”

I knew that Kel was right, but he obviously had no idea how uncomfortable it was to have something pressing against my wings.

“I covered the window. And I was as quiet as is humanly possible. Besides, I was already putting the necklace back on when you started screaming at me.” Kel sighed and closed his eyes in a manner that made me swear he was counting to ten.

“Just be careful. There are places where fliers are tied down and have their wings ripped from their backs. Then they're left to bleed to death. Those that survive are shunned by other fliers, and tend to have to eke out a survival through begging since very few people will give them the help they need to travel safely to another place. Most don't survive a year. I don't want that to happen.”

The mental image was sufficiently horrifying to quell any irritation I might have had towards Kel for having the gall to boss me around. At the thought of what he was describing happening to me, I unconsciously pressed my wings closer to my back.

“All right. I'll be more careful. But it really isn't very comfortable to have something pressed against my wings.”

“I understand that, Ava. But if you're going to take risks, at least be smart about it. Covering the window was a good idea, but you should have also stood well away from it so that your silhouette couldn't be seen by anyone. Though the smartest option really would have been to just bear it for a little longer. If you can figure out how to comfortably arrange the quiver without taking off the necklace, than I think that would be the best option.”

I sighed. I knew that he was right, but he really didn't understand having wings. Then again, I suppose it's impossible to actually understand something you've never experienced. After all, I had no idea what it was like to... how did he describe it? Weave spells? Maybe he'd tell me.

“Kel. What's it like exactly to use magic?”

Kel looked surprised at the question. Then he looked thoughtful.

“I've never actually been asked that before. I imagine it's different for every sorcerer. For me, it feels warm. Every time I weave a spell, I feel the magic building up inside of me as an energy that I allow to build to its zenith, and then release it. Releasing the magic feels different depending on what I need it for. Sometimes it feels like a pulse moving out from me in all directions. Other times it feels like like a wave, rolling towards one direction. Sometimes it fires out from me in a concentrated burst like an arrow's flight. Every time I weave my magic, I feel whole. My magic is always there, waiting for me to reach out to it when I need to.”

I still didn't understand it. But I did understand that Kel loved his magic.

“Where I'm from, the only magic that people use is fake. Used for parties to entertain people. Though now that I know that magic really exists, I wonder if the people killed during the Salem witch trials didn't actually have magic.”

“How do you fake having magic?”

“Lots of ways. Misdirection, slight of hand, optical illusions, some people make a lot of money pretending to be real magicians. Though I never quite understood the fascination with magic.”

“Perhaps, much like your legends of Arthur and Merlin, tales of magic was your people's way of trying to keep your history alive. But in time, it became confused, so details were lost.”

“Maybe. So is there anything to do around this town? Any fun activities?”

“It's a small town. Most people who are here are working. Though I do have books you can read.”

I opened my mouth to agree, but then looked away in embarrassment. I didn't want to admit that I couldn't read the language here.

“What's wrong?”

“It's stupid. I... your written language is incomprehensible to me. The letters look vaguely like ones I've grown up reading and writing, but they're somehow different. I can't read anything written down”

When I didn't hear laughter, I sneaked a glance at Kel. Instead of looking amused, he looked thoughtful.

“I suppose it makes sense that your writing system would have changed. Sometimes I forget that you're from a place that's very different from my home. But if the letters are at least similar to the ones you've grown up with, you have a good foundation to learn.” Reaching into his invisible pocket, he pulled out a book and walked over. “If you'd like, I can teach you. Though I wonder why you're able to easily understand me.”

“I didn't think of that. Maybe your magic barrier, when it made me a member of this world, changed my brain so I could speak and understand your language, but it couldn't change me enough to understand how you write your letters.”

“It's possible. The magics are powerful. They could very well have tried to give you everything you needed to survive here, but didn't have time.”

“Do you want me to teach you our written system? We have the time, and there could be a time where you need to know what something says and I'm not there to translate it for you.”

“Well, since it's practical for me to learn, I guess I should.” I couldn't help but smirk in amusement. No matter what we were talking about, Kel seemed to always be able to bring it back to his task.

Sitting down next to me, Kel handed me the book and asked what I thought it said. Trying to read so much as a word was next to impossible. The letters seemed to shift and warp to my eyes, the way that people claim a room does for someone having a dizzy spell.

Though oddly, if I stared at it long enough, the letters stilled, and I was able to find some semblance of understandable words. Describing what happened, Kel looked at me.

“I'm not sure if it's your mind trying to put the letters into the form that's familiar to them, or the magics trying to work further on you. But it looks like if you can simply wait it out, you can read the words. If you'd like to borrow the book, you may.” Leaving the book with me, he walked off to read his own books, taking notes on things. Most likely he was still trying to figure out where whoever it was that had tampered with the barrier was. That or he was trying to plot the fastest route to wherever he had planned on looking first. He had his map out, so that seemed like a good guess.

Deciding not to ruin his concentration, I fought with the strangely warping words for a few hours before I felt too sick to keep on reading. Deciding to lie down until my stomach settled, I must have fallen asleep. When I woke up, Kel was carrying two plates to the room.

“It cost me extra, but the owner let me bring our food up here. Since you slept through lunch, I knew you'd be hungry.” Giving one of the plates to me, he sat down and asked how far I'd gotten in the book. He still wasn't certain what was causing the letters to warp the way they were, but seemed hopeful that the effect would end eventually.

After perhaps an hour of small talk, he told me that if I wanted to take a bath, I should do so now and get to bed. He seemed to prescribe to the 'early to bed, early to rise' belief. Groaning, I stood up without complaint, since I had no choice in the matter, but a large part of me wanted to have a word with him on the value of beauty sleep.

As promised, Kel woke me up bright and early. The sun had barely risen when he was shaking me awake. Taking an extra moment to make sure my quiver was comfortably placed, I followed him out of the town.

“Looks like we're not the only early risers here.”

“I told you, Ava, people in this town work in the mines. Most of them have already left. These are the late risers.”
I looked at Kel in surprise. That quelled any complaints I had about the early wake up call. As impatient as Kel was to get going, I was fortunate that he'd let me sleep for as long as he had.

“How far out of town do I have to be before it's safe to take the necklace off?”

“I thought you said you hated your wings? I would have thought you'd be glad to not have to see them.”

“I... well...” I didn't have an answer for Kel since he was right. I didn't like my wings. So why was I so disturbed by not being able to see them? “It's not that I don't like not having to see them constantly in the corner of my eye. It's more that feeling their weight on my back and not being able to see them is odd.”

Kel didn't seem to believe that explanation, but he didn't argue it.

“You'll want to be a few miles outside of town at the very least. Though I won't feel safe with you having your wings visible while we're on the main path. It's well-traveled and the odds of your wings being seen are high if you're not wearing the necklace.”

“How much are you wanting to travel the main path?” If it was for most of the trip, I supposed I would simply have to deal with not being able to see my wings even though I could feel them. Though not even I believed that explanation, so I wasn't surprised that Kel saw through it.

“There will be long stretches where the path will be the quickest and easiest way to travel. But according to the map, largely the fastest route will be well away from the path. You won't have to have the necklace on constantly.”

I nodded at the reassurance, easily falling into step beside him. After walking along the path for a few hours, eventually Kel decided that it was time to head into the rougher terrain. I was strangely relieved when we were far enough away from it to be able to comfortably take off the necklace.

“Have your bow ready to be used. We're heading into slightly more dangerous terrain.”

“How dangerous?”

“Dangerous enough that those Shadow Terrors will practically seem to be nonthreatening in comparison. The danger about this place is that most of what will try to kill you will seem human. But they're territorial, and tend to attack first and ask questions later. We should be skirting around it, but some of them will attack you simply for being close.”

Taking his advice, I strung my bow and placed it over my right shoulder, laying it next to my wing. Fortunately, we passed through most of what he was describing as dangerous without harm. Kel was just starting to relax when a brown blur slammed into him.

Acting reflexively, I whipped out my bow and grabbed an arrow almost in the same movement. Taking a moment to aim, I fired an arrow so that it flew past the animal, not wanting to hit it despite the fact that it attacked first.

As I'd hoped, the animal, it looked like a cat of some sort, sprang away, hissing and snarling angrily at us.

“Calm yourself, Shifter,” Kel said, getting to his feet and holding out his arms as if trying to placate it. “If we are trespassing in your territory, we apologize. We will leave soon.”

Just when I thought nothing else could surprise me, the cat – which I had finally recognized to be a lynx – started changing right in front of us. Where a violent cat was standing a moment ago, now a woman about an inch taller than me, putting her at 5'7 was standing. Though when I looked at the details, I could see the lynx in the human. Her wavy, shoulder length hair was the same shade of brown as the lynx's fur, and even her eyes were the same color. Those were the only immediately recognizable features that were the same in both animal and human, but I was sure that if I looked closely enough, I would find more.

“Why are you trespassing? Do you serve the Corrupter? Are you here to finish his work on my family?”

“Who's the Corruptor? If there is a problem here, perhaps we can help Miss-”

“My name is Maka. And I don't know who the Corruptor is. The panthers whispered of someone changing the nature of the beasts. I didn't believe them until I saw the proof for myself. Shadow Terrors suddenly moving as quickly and gracefully in the air as your flier friend. And smelling different than usual. It was a familiar taint. The taint of magic.”

Maka spat out the word 'magic' as if it was foul.

“What do you mean?”

“I've smelled things changed by magic, sorcerer. Usually they are seemingly benign in nature. Restoring something to its former glory, altering the shape of something to improve its appearance. Some of the changes were probably even meant to be helpful. But they all had that same acrid scent to them.” Maka's eyes flicked to me. “You have that same scent about you, flier. Which is odd as I was led to believe that the wings of fliers was something that they were born with.”

“If you'll calm yourself, Maka, I will explain everything that I can,” Kel promised. Slowly, Maka's muscles relaxed. After a long moment where I felt we were being judged and measured, she nodded. Jerking her head to tell us to follow her, she led us to what I assumed to be her home.

The explanation took several hours, with Maka asking both of us questions periodically.

“I imagine that the Corruptor's influence is what caused this to happen to you, Ava. If you are going after him, then I am going with you. This monster has committed the worst crime of all. He changed my cubs into Shadow Terrors before my very eyes. When I find this monster, I will personally sink my fangs into him, and take my revenge for my family.”

“If you wish to accompany us, you are more than welcome to,” Kel answered. “Sorcerers always try to preserve life, but if what you say is true, then this one has abandoned his duty. When a sorcerer does that, there is only one option for us. He must be killed. I won't stop you if you wish to take your revenge for what happened to your family.”

“How is it even possible for your family to have been changed like that?”

“Magic can do many things, Ava. It changed you completely, after all. Though unlike your situation, where the change was made to save your life, this was probably done only with destruction in mind. Shadow Terrors are among the strongest of beasts this world has. And on top of being almost impossible to kill, they almost solely exist only to kill and eat. If someone could control Shadow Terrors by changing already existing creatures into them, they would have a nearly unstoppable army at their disposal.”

“So this magic is evil, then. I suppose it makes sense. Though killing him seems a little harsh. Can't you just... take away his magic?”

My question was met with amused laughter from Maka.

“Magic cannot be 'taken away' child. Once it chooses someone, it is there for that person's life.”

“Maka is correct, Ava. The elders teach us that once the ability strip someone of his magic did exist, but it was lost during the second war. It is possible that I will take him to the elders for judgment instead of killing him, but likely the elders will tell me to do what I must.”

“Know this, humans, I will accompany you in your search for the monster who destroyed my family because it is convenient to me. But if you try to prevent me from killing him, I will have no hesitations in striking you down where you stand.” Maka's words were stated simply and with conviction. Looking at her, I could tell that she wasn't threatening us. She was stating a fact. The matter of fact way that she told us that if we got in her way, she would kill us was terrifying.

“I understand, Maka. If the elders allow it, then I won't stop you. But I must do what the elders demand, even if it means making an enemy of you.”

< Message edited by Gingkage -- 9/29/2014 1:15:33 >
AQ DF MQ  Post #: 5
1/10/2014 15:14:52   
Wolf Rider

This impudent fool. I could have killed him before his flier friend had drawn her bow if I wanted to. The only thing that stopped me was that I never killed needlessly. They had not attacked me, and whatever sense of honor that had been instilled in me since my youth held me back from landing the fatal blow that I wanted to. And he thought he could survive making an enemy of me? It took every once of my self control to keep myself from killing this child where he sat.

Closing my eyes to calm myself, I focused on containing the beast within me. The animal inside wanted nothing more than to prove her strength by ripping this boy to shreds. With every ounce of willpower that I possessed, I reminded myself that I needed this boy to lead me to the Corruptor.

I don't know why I wasn't changed by the same magic that turned my children into monsters. But I swore to them that I would find the animal that did this to them and personally see to it that he couldn't wield his magic anymore. How unfortunate for him that the only way to strip a sorcerer of his magic was to kill him.

When I had finally calmed myself enough that I felt confident that I wouldn't tear into this arrogant boy in front of me, I opened my eyes and looked at him.

“I am only telling you this once, boy. I don't care how powerful you believe yourself or your magic to be. If you make an enemy of me, you will not last the day. Your flier friend has more common sense. She knows to be afraid of me.”

“What are you talking about? I'm not afraid.” I had to give the girl credit. Her voice was steady and confident. When I glanced towards her, I saw that she had enough control of herself to keep her fear all but completely masked in her expression. She would have been able to fool most people with her false bravado.

“My senses may not be as strong in this human form as they are in my lynx form, but they are still far superior to a human's. More than adequate to smell the fear radiating off of you.

“I admire your self control, girl, but don't think you can lie to me. It would take someone far more skilled than you to successfully deceive me.”

“If you were a shifter like she is, Ava, you would probably be able to fool her. Shifters are renowned for their ability to tell whenever anyone is lying. The only ones to successfully fool them have been other shifters.”

I looked at the sorcerer, almost feeling respect for him. All the sorcerers that I've met knew nothing of my kind. For him to even know a small detail put him above the others of his ilk in my eyes. Perhaps it was good that I stayed my fangs when I attacked him earlier. This boy had the potential to be interesting.

“Not many of your type bother to learn of the other peoples in this world. What sparked your interest in things other than magic, boy?”

I nearly laughed at his exasperated groan.

“And I thought Ava's butchering of my name was annoying. She at least doesn't call me 'boy.'

“I do not butcher your name! It's a nick name. If I wanted to butcher your name, I'd call you... well I don't know what I'd call you if I wanted to butcher your name, but it wouldn't be 'Kel.'”

“Answer the question, boy.”

“My apologies, Maka. My interest comes from the fact that before I lived in the complex, my home was next to a forest inhabited by shifters.”

“The wolves, most likely.”

“Yes. As a child, the thought of a human turning into an animal before my eyes terrified me. So to show me that I had nothing to be afraid of, my parents took me to meet the shifters. Some of them laughed at my fear and even tried to scare me more, but most of them were happy to talk. It wasn't a long visit, but it was enough to make me curious about shifters. So I did some research. I didn't learn much since there aren't many things written about your people, but what I did learn I committed to memory.”

This boy was interesting indeed. He was genuinely respectful of my kind.

Wait? What was that smell? With the sorcerer and the girl present, the stench of magic was strong. But this was different.

“Stay here.” Shifting back into a lynx was a painful process. I may have been able to change forms easily, but that didn't make the transformation painless. It was why I tried to stay in just one form as much as I could.

Once the transformation was complete, I stalked out of my home, following the scent hoping that I could place it.

What I saw was worrisome. Turning quickly, I ran back inside, shifting forms as I did so.

“Shadow Terrors! More of the ones that have been tainted by magic. At least eight of them.”

“What color were they?” The urgency in Kel's voice made me wonder if his encounter with the Shadow Terrors had been more dangerous than he had implied.


“I don't think the ones that have been changed by magic are the type of Shadow Terrors you're used to. Kel said they were almost impossible to destroy, but the ones that I got to crash into the ground seemed to have died. When I flew over the area to stretch my wings while we were waiting on Kel's elders, the bodies were still there.”

“It makes sense. They're not true Shadow Terrors. But they're still strong and hard to kill.” I nearly laughed at the sudden change in the sorcerer's manner. Studious to the end. Even in a dangerous situation such as this, he had time for theories.

“I can try to lead some of them on a merry chase. Even if I only attract three, that's still leaving you with just five. I think you can handle that.”

I was surprised. Ava had told me that she had barely survived that first mad flight with Shadow Terrors trying to kill her. It was foolish of her to offer to go through it again.

“Ava, that's why we bought you the bow. So you wouldn't have to do something like that.”

“Well since I haven't had a chance to practice shooting on the wing, I'll have to rely on speed and agility. It's day time, meaning I'll be able to see where I'm going. That should make it easier to fly quickly. Not being in pain will help even more.”

“And what will you do if several of them give chase and you can't escape them. With only two, the only way they could take you down was to catch you. If several chase after you, you could easily find yourself surrounded with no escape.”

That was evidently not something that Ava had thought of.

“What good will you do anyone if you run out foolishly without thinking of all possibilities? Shadow Terrors are elite hunters. You escaped once because you got lucky. Don't mistake good fortune for skill. That is how people get killed. If you want to survive in this world to my age, then you need to use your brain. You have a weapon. There is no need to put yourself in any real danger.”

“Well if you're wanting to be tactical, Maka, why bother leaving here to fight them? We could just wait for them to leave, couldn't we?”

“We could if they weren't Shadow Terrors, Ava.” It appeared that this boy truly was knowledgeable. “There is no creature with better senses than a Shadow Terror. They've definitely smelled us by now. They probably even heard us talking.”

“But if these aren't true Shadow Terrors, then maybe they don't have those elite senses.”

The sound of the Shadow Terrors roars outside answered Ava's question of whether or not they were aware of our presence.

“That doesn't prove anything. Maybe they saw Maka earlier.”

“We can argue about how good the senses of these new Shadow Terrors might or might not be later, Ava.”

“All right, Kel. You win. Where do you think they'd be weak?”

“Typical Shadow Terrors have one weakness. If you hit their eyes, you'll kill them. The rest of their bodies are invulnerable.”

Ava took a moment to think before nodding.

“All right. I can hit that. Maybe you two can see if they have any other weak points.” Standing up, she took a moment to string her bow, grabbing an arrow as she walked out.

When the boy and I walked out, we saw that Ava hadn't fired a shot.

“What's wrong, girl? Lose your confidence in your abilities to hit?”

“They're out of range. And even if they weren't, I can't see their eyes. Kel, can you bring them to the ground?”

“Of course I can.”

My skin crawled uncomfortably as the boy started gathering his magic. When the spell he was 'weaving' as his type love to call it was released, it formed a magical ceiling above the Shadow Terrors. Glancing at him, I saw him violently bring his arms down. The pressure of the magic forced the Shadow Terrors to the ground.

Shifting into a lynx, I ran at one. Shadow Terrors were larger and stronger than I was, but I was determined to win.

Dodging a swipe from the claws of one of the Terrors, I swiped back, missing by a small margin. I needed to get to the throat, but the Terror was keeping it too low to the ground.

Leaping up, I twisted in the air to avoid another swipe from the Terror and landed on its back between the wings. Finding the base of the neck, I bit down as hard as I could, fully expecting the attack to fail.

To my surprise, my fangs easily penetrated the Terror's flesh. The roar of pain that it let out was satisfying to my ears. Biting down as hard as I could, I dug in with my claws for another form of purchase.

When the terror finally fell, I looked around for the next one, only to find that the two children had killed them.

“Well, we know that they can be killed by other means than shooting them in the eye. That's useful information. Though it looks like it's the fastest way of killing them. Ava's arrows were more effective than my magic when her aim wasn't off.”

Shifting back into my human form, I looked around at the dead Terrors. Of the ten that were there, one had been felled by myself, four by the sorcerer, and six by the girl.

“Impressive aim, girl.”

“Thanks. I never would have imagined that the archery team would ever have a practical use.”

“Then why do it?” The boy had a point. Why do something that you didn't believe would be useful to you?

“Well, my school required that everyone participate in an extracurricular activity. A really nasty stomach bug made me miss the sports tryouts, so it was either dance or archery. Since I can't dance to save my life, I went with archery. I ended up having so much fun that I signed up for it every year.”

Interesting. I suppose it didn't matter why she was skilled with the bow. All that was relevant was that she was.

“Still, it is fortunate that you are so skilled.”

“Dumb luck, I guess. Though I should probably practice firing while in the air. It might be a useful skill to develop.”

“Ava, can you fly up and see if anything's coming? I don't want to be surprised by any more Terrors.”

Ava glared in annoyance at the sor- Kele. I must call them by their names. To do otherwise would make things strained between us.

Despite her annoyance, Ava nonetheless did as was asked and took to the sky. After flying in a wide, circular path, she landed in front of us.

“I didn't see anything. So unless you have invisible monsters, we should be safe.”

“You said that you had a destination in mind to look for the monster that destroyed my family.”

“We do. But your mentioning your family reminds me, Maka. Why were you spared? It would have made more sense for you to be changed as well.”

“I don't know why I was spared, boy. All I know is that of my family, only I was left unchanged. Perhaps the monster took joy in watching my children turn their fangs and claws onto me. Or perhaps it was because my children were in their lynx forms while I was not. Who knows how the mind of a mad man works?”

Kele looked thoughtful for several long moments.

“If I were to hazard a guess, you were spared because you were in your human shape instead of your lynx one. Magic has limitations. It seems very likely that the limitation of the spell used to change your children was that they had to be in their animal forms and not their human ones.”

“Shouldn't we get moving? I thought you were in a hurry, Kel.”

“Ava's right. Let's get moving.”

Before he and the girl could head out, I inserted myself in front of him.

“Where are you headed to?” Pulling out a map, Kele showed me where he was headed, also telling me the route he wanted to take.

“You're taking a slower route. The wise choice would be to cross through my territory. You will save yourself roughly three days of travel. If you are truly in a hurry, then you'll take advantage of this offer. I rarely allow strangers into my territory.”

“I'm grateful for your offer, Maka. If I or my fellow sorcerers can ever repay the kindness you are showing, you need only ask.” This strange boy was full of surprises. The formal answer to my allowance was accompanied by a waist-deep bow.

“Enough with the formalities. We've wasted enough time.” Stalking off, I didn't bother looking behind to see if they were following me. They either would or they wouldn't. Either way, I didn't need them now that I had a destination in mind.

“Honovi. Enapay. Niyol. I will take revenge for what happened to you. I promise.”
AQ DF MQ  Post #: 6
1/10/2014 15:16:11   
Wolf Rider

Maka was definitely an interesting woman. If she had been in my world, I think I might have looked up to her as a role model. She had the same no-nonsense attitude as my archery teachers. Only she was harsher in some aspects. I don't know if that harshness came from her growing up in this world, allegedly fending for herself, or from losing her children.

I couldn't help but think of my own parents. I'd been gone for over a week. I wonder if they were still looking for me. Perhaps they'd given up searching, believing that I'd died. It was well-known how dangerous the mountain that I lived on was. They'd always said if I wasn't careful I was going to fall off and plummet to my death. Maybe they should have said that it would happen even if I was careful.

If only I'd moved out seven years ago when I turned eighteen. I'd always planned to. But there was nowhere else on the mountain to live and I didn't want to leave. My parents and I were working on making a small home for me not too far from my formerly favorite place, but it was a difficult project. We'd been working on it for five years and it still wasn't done.

I guess that was one blessing. They didn't need to keep sinking all of that money into the building.

It was fortunate that nothing was coming, since I was barely aware enough of my surroundings to follow Maka as she cut a path through her territory.

Kel was walking a few paces in front of me. I'm pretty sure if he thought Maka would allow it, he would have been walking next to her. He was hyper respectful, almost to the point of aggravation. I'm surprised he wasn't apologizing to those Shadow Terrors even as he was killing them.

After walking for a few hours, with me flying ahead on occasion both to look for threats and try and clear my head, we made camp for the night. Maka seemed irritated with this, but recognized the need to sleep. She also seemed to recognize that, unlike her, we can't change into an animal with good night vision.

She seemed amused by Kel's barrier stones, but helped us set them up just the same. Perhaps she appreciated the fact that it did provide us with some protection, which allowed us to sleep at night.

“We'll need to resupply at the next town that we go to. If we ration the food carefully, it should last long enough for us to make it, but it won't last for much longer.”

“I thought you said you had plenty of food? If you knew you were running low, why didn't you buy more at the last town we were at?”

“I had enough for two people, Ava. Now that the food has to be split three ways, it will run out more quickly. Meaning I'll need to purchase more. We're not running low yet, but it's always a good idea to plan ahead.”

“Well all the plants are the same as the ones I grew up with. It wouldn't be hard for me to find edible ones if we run out of food. I admit that now that I know about shifters, I'm a little afraid to kill a bunny to eat in case it's a human, but we can always fend for ourselves if we have to.”

“There's no need to fear hunting, girl. Only the predators like myself are shifters. Animals such as deer or rabbits are not.”

“Well, that's a relief. But still, the point is, Kel, that even if we don't carefully ration every scrap of food we have, we'll be able to survive out here just fine.”

“It's still wiser to ration our food carefully. There's no reason to eat all of it quickly solely because finding more food is doable. But if you want to find food for yourself that badly, Ava, I guess you can always supplement our food with things you find.”

“Kel, I'm not saying that you're wrong to say we need to ration our food. I'm just saying that you're making it out to be some kind of emergency when it's really not. Being prepared is one thing, being paranoid is another.”

“If you children are done squabbling, I believe the reason you insisted on making camp was so that you could sleep.”

Properly chastised by Maka, Kel and I found a place to sleep, and after setting up a watch order that went Maka, myself, and Kel, settled down to rest.

Maka woke me up when her watch was over by gently but repeatedly shaking me. As blunt as her manner had been up to now, I was almost surprised she didn't find a faster way to wake me.

“Stay alert, girl. I can smell creatures in the distance. I don't think they know we're here, but there's no sense in being lax.”

“Maka. I know that you're probably tired, but when you shifted from lynx to human, or from human to lynx, it looked like it was hurting you.”

“You have good eyes, girl. Shifting is a painful process. I imagine that when your wings grew, it hurt?” I nodded in confirmation, remembering all too vividly how much it had hurt. “Imagine the pain of those appearing, of your very bones shifting to allow you to be able to fly, all throughout your body. And then imagine that painful shifting happening again every time you needed to use or tuck in your wings.” I couldn't help but shudder. As much as it had hurt when I my wings sprouted in the first place, I couldn't imagine having to go through that pain repeatedly.

“At home, everyone thinks that people who change from human or animal or animal to human can do so painlessly. It never occurred to me that every part of your body would be changing form and possibly even position. I guess that would be painful.”

“It's a pain that you adapt to if you're a shifter. Your first two shifts are always the worst since you don't know what to expect. After the first two, even though it still hurts, the pain becomes less and less as you continue shifting. It never becomes ignorable, but it does become bearable.”

I didn't really understand how she would willingly put herself through pain simply to shift forms. I had started to ask, but by the time I had gathered my thoughts to do so, Maka was already asleep.

“Shifters are said to really be two personalities. The human and the beast.” I jumped when Kel spoke, having thought he was asleep. “It's possible that that's a true statement, which means that shifting forms allows both personalities to peacefully coexist in the same body.”

“I couldn't sleep. I was going to offer to take your watch, but I didn't want to interrupt the conversation.”

“What, are you a mind reader? That's two thoughts you accurately knew I was thinking. 'Why do shifters shift if it hurts' and 'I thought you were asleep.'”

Kel laughed quietly, not wanting to wake Maka.

“No, I'm not a mind reader. I saw your confusion and took an educated guess. And I knew that you thought I was sleeping. Answering both statements wasn't difficult. But do you want me to take your watch? I know that you were soundly sleeping earlier.”

“I'm awake now. I'm one of those people that once you get up, are up. You just have to get them up first.” Since Kel was apparently uninterested in trying to sleep, which made me wonder how he was planning on staying awake to travel tomorrow, we sat in companionable silence for a couple hours.

“Kel, you said you had glowstones?” He looked surprised at the question, though that might have been because I hadn't spoken for a few hours.

“Glowstones? You mean the light rock?” Or maybe he was surprised because I didn't know the correct term. That was possible. “Yes, I have one. It doesn't emit much light, but it's enough to see with. Why?”

“Maka said she could smell something. I want to see if I can find it.” Kel was shaking his head even before I had finished speaking.

“No. It's too dangerous. The light rock emits a glow that extends maybe five feet away from you. You wouldn't know if something was there until you were on top of it. On the other hand, any creature would know that you were coming well in advance.”


“No. If anything tries to attack us, the barrier will let me know. There's no need for you to needlessly risk your life looking for whatever it was Maka smelled. It might not even be coming for us.”

“I'd still feel better if I looked for it.”

“I understand, Ava. But there's no need.”

“Maybe I just don't trust your barrier.” Kel looked confused at that comment.

“Why not? It's protected us so far. It saved us from those five Terrors the first night.”

“How can I know that? I wasn't aware we were being attacked until you started screaming. How can I know you didn't just happen to see them coming in time to wake me up?”

“I see.” Kel took a moment to think about how to phrase what he was going to say. “The way the barrier works is that if anything tries to breach it, it resonates against my magic. Even though you weren't aware of anything until I woke you, I was very clearly aware that something was trying to get through.”

I wasn't sure I believed it. It sounded impossible, but I supposed I was in a world where everything was impossible. These things on my back were completely impossible, but they were there.

“All right. I guess I have to trust you. But it seems so improbable that only you can tell when your barrier is being breached.”

“I apologize, Ava. Sometimes I forget that you're not from this world. Here, the fact that sorcerers can sense things that others can't is commonly known and accepted. I shouldn't have assumed you knew how I could tell the barrier was being breached. If you have questions about anything, ask. If I can, I'll answer.”

“I might take you up on that. In the meantime, it's your watch. If I'm lucky, I'll be able to grab a couple hours of sleep.” Kel looked vaguely confused at the phrase I used, but chose not to ask, instead wishing me a good night's sleep. Perhaps they have different figures of speech in this world.

Despite not feeling tired when I settled back down to sleep, I fell asleep almost immediately.

I woke up to the smell of cooking food.

“Since when did we have food that needed cooked?”

“Apparently Maka didn't like the food that we had and took your suggestion to hunt for something. I have to admit that fresh meat is better than the dried food that we had.”

Yawning and stretching – and again being surprised that stretching also included stretching my wings – I walked over to where Kel had prepared a bowl of food for me, grumbling under my breath about coffee.


“Yea. It's the best drink in the world. I thought that I'd grabbed some in my mad dash from home since I can't live without it, but I never found it in my bag. It must have pulled a Houdini.”


“Harry Houdini? Only the greatest disappearing artist known to man. His name is still said as someone that all disappearing artists look up to. I would have thought that even in this strange place his name would be known.”

“Events on the other side of the barrier are unknown to us. It's why you won't recognize any names of people recognized in our history except the few myths that your people have from before the barrier.”

“Which is why I know who Merlin is.”

“Exactly. But you would have no knowledge of Rhian, one of the greatest sorcerers in our history. She was said to have power to rival Merlin's. But this could never be proven since Merlin was dead by that time.”

“Girl, you said that your people had stories of people who could change into animals.”

“Yea. The werewolves that everyone hears about. And vampires are supposed to be able to change into bats or wolves. They're popular subjects of horror stories.”

“Possibly those stories are another remnant of your history that you tried to preserve.”

“Maybe, Kel. But it would disappoint all the people who credit Brahm Stoker as having created the first memorable vampire.”

I wasn't really interested in talking about myths from home that were suddenly staring me in the face every moment of every day. Trying to avoid talking about it more, I focused on my food, eating a little too quickly and burning my tongue.

Fortunately, Kel and Maka seemed to get the hint, eating in silence.

“So what exactly is coffee, and what makes it so incredible?” Maka's question startled me since we'd been sitting in silence for a few minutes by that point.

“Oh. Well, it's a caffeinated drink that a lot of people drink to wake up in the morning. There are some people, like my mom, who are almost dangerous to approach before or even during their first cup of coffee. I'm not nearly that bad, but I've been told that my mood improves after the first cup. Some people don't like it, so I guess it's an acquired taste.”

Maka didn't seem to really get what I was talking about, but it felt good to be listened to as I rambled on about it.

“Oh, I know what you're talking about!” Kel's exclamation startled me. Namely because I'd never seen him excited about something.

“It doesn't grow around here, but there's a town that has it. If we come to it, I'll be sure to get you some.”

The thought of having coffee again was enough to lift my spirits. I was happy enough that I wasn't even irritated when Kel asked me, yet again, to fly ahead and see if there was anything coming.

It took half the day for Maka to lead us through the rest of her territory.

“Past this point, we'll have to travel the route you had plotted, boy.”

“You've saved us a good deal of travel, Maka. I'm grateful.”

“Save your pretty words, boy. They'll do you no good in the world.”

Kel was silent after Maka's chastising.

“But there are times where talk is what's needed to avoid problems. It's what saved Kel and me from being killed by you, isn't it?”

Maka smiled, though it looked like more of an amused smirk.

“True enough, girl. True enough. But in this world, talk will get you killed more than it will save your life. It was one of the first lessons I taught my children.”

“What were they like?” Kel's glare made me realize that what I'd said was cruel. Maka had only recently lost her children.

“I'm sorry. You don't have to answer that if you-”

“Don't apologize, girl. The question is understandable. My children were still young, still having much to learn of the world. Honovi was shy and timid. She was always the last to try something new. Her brothers Enapay and Niol were the opposite. Rambunctious and always getting themselves into trouble that they needed me to get them out of.”

Maka was trying to hide her pain as she talked about her children. Not knowing how to change the subject without being rude, I returned the favor she had done the night before in listening to me ramble about coffee by listening to her talk about her children.

After an hour of listening to Maka tell stories about her children, she fell silent. After only a small period of quiet, Kel spoke up.

“Ava, this looks like a good spot to at least have a meal. Since you said you wanted to practice firing your bow while in the air, this is probably your best place to do it.”

Looking around the area, I saw that he was right. There wasn't anyone around that I could see, and there was a tree with a knot in it that would make for perfect target practice.

Flying up, I carefully knocked an arrow. It was harder than it usually was. With my wings having to work to keep me in the air, they both obstructed my vision, and even made it hard for me to keep my arms steady.

Deciding that the only way I would ever end up firing was to just go for it, I waited until my wings were far back, and quickly sighted the knot, aimed to the best of my ability, and fired.

And missed completely. I didn't even hit the correct tree. Frustrated I reached back to grab another arrow, again waited for my wings to be out of my way, and quickly aimed and fired. Only to completely miss the tree again.

Several arrows later, I finally noticed something that I was only subconsciously aware of before then. In keeping myself hovering in the air like I was, my wings had to keep moving. This resulted in a slight up-and-down motion that I wasn't compensating for.

When I allowed for that, my aim was marginally better, but I still wasn't even close to the correct tree. Landing, I took some time to calm down since I was extremely frustrated, and think about the problem.

Slowly, an idea occurred to me that might explain why my aim was so poor. Before today, every time I fired an arrow, I'd had time to line up my shot and make sure my aim was correct. With the way I had been firing, to allow me to see what I was trying to hit without my wings obstructing my vision, I didn't have that luxury.

Standing up, I lined myself up roughly with the tree and turned around. Knocking an arrow, I turned around and tried to fire the exact moment I had finished turning.

The arrow missed. And very nearly hit Kel in the process.

“Are you trying to kill us?”

“Sorry, Kel. Maybe you and Maka shouldn't be sitting there. I'd recommend sitting behind me. I'm going to have several shots that are that bad.”

“What happened to your aim from earlier, girl? Were you lying about your skill?”

Irritated at Maka, I grabbed an arrow, knocked it, drew back my bow and fired all in one motion. Years of archery had guided those movements and my aim was flawless, hitting the knot I had been aiming for for the past hour and a half.

“I wasn't exaggerating my skill. But I am having to learn an entirely new way of using a bow if I want to be effective in the air. I have to adjust for the slight movement that happens as I'm in the air, I have to allow for the very brief period of time that I have an unobstructed shot because of how large my wings are. It's going to take time, and the safest place to be sitting is far away from where I'm trying to hit.”

“Anyone can hit a target once. I've seen no proof that any of the Terrors you allegedly killed weren't guided by the sorcerer's magic or your dumb luck.”

“And what would prove that I wasn't exaggerating about my skill, Maka?” Before she could even answer, I started speaking again. “Actually, never mind. I don't need to prove anything to you. I know I'm good with a bow. If you don't want to believe that, then that's your problem, not mine. But I know my own skill, which is enough for me to be happy with. Now let me focus!

Instead of responding in the same manner that I had spoken like I had expected, Maka laughed in amusement.

“You're braver than you realize, girl. Few people would speak to a shifter in that tone of voice.” In the next second, I was on my back with a lynx pinning me down. When I started trying to shove her off, her fangs found my throat. She didn't bite down, but the pressure was enough to make me freeze in terror.

A moment later, the lynx was gone and Maka was standing a few feet away.

“I admire your bravery girl, but never forget that I'm far stronger and faster than you are. Don't think that you can push me and live to tell the tale.”

Standing up slowly, I focused on trying to stop myself from shaking. Even the times that I was falling to what I thought would be my death, I hadn't felt that afraid or close to death.

“Are you all right, Ava?”

“Why didn't you stop her? What happened to your great magic that you can use to pin people to stone?”

“I'm sorry, Ava. The spell you're referring to is a simple one to weave, but it still takes time. Maka moved too quickly. Had I grabbed her with my magic, I might have ended up hurting you. There is a spell to pull her off of you, but that one takes slightly longer to weave, and she had already jumped off by the time I was ready to use it.”

I bit my tongue to keep from lashing out at him. Kel was genuinely concerned. I believed him when he said that he couldn't use his magic to stop Maka's warning attack. He didn't deserve me lashing out at him like that. Collecting the arrows out of a habit drilled into my teachers even though Kel had said my quiver would never run out, I found a place to stand that was well away from Maka and Kel.

Turning around, I again spun around, drawing my bow and firing as soon as I had stopped moving. Unsurprisingly, my shot went wide.

“You're thinking of this wrong, girl.”

“I didn't realize you were an expert on archery, Maka.”

“I don't have to be to tell you're taking the wrong approach. You have more time than you're giving yourself while you're in the air. You can afford to take a second to find your target and aim. You have to learn to find the target and correctly aim quickly, it's true, but you don't have to fire immediately as you seem to think.”

I took a moment to think about what Maka was saying. It made sense. Hovering a few feet in the air, I took a moment to see just how much my wings obstructed my vision. It was only for a second that they blocked my eyes, and once I took the time to actually focus on must my wings, they weren't really providing that great of an obstacle. They covered part of my vision, but if I focused, I could still see relatively well.

Landing, I flared my wings so that they were about in the same position that they were in when I was hovering and drew back my bow. It was impossible to fully draw it without running into my wings. Moving them back, I saw that the only way I could draw my bow was if my wings were either closed or at their farthest point back.

Realizing that I didn't need to fire as rapidly as I'd thought, I tried firing from the air again.

It was hard. My shots, while not as wide as they had been before, were still missing entirely. The main thing throwing off my aim was that I was having a difficult time compensating for the up and down movement that came with hovering in one place.

Taking a few minutes to learn the motion, when I was at my lowest point I aimed below the target, and when my wings were at their farthest point before moving forward, quickly drew my bow and released.

I shouted loudly for joy when the arrow hit the knot that I was aiming for. It had taken hours to achieve, but it was enough to let me know that shooting on the wing was possible.

“Congratulations. You've cost us the rest of the day. It's too dark to travel any further now.” I couldn't blame Maka for being so annoyed with me. But I did wish she'd been a little more enthusiastic about my achievement.

“Well done, Ava. I knew you could do it. Unfortunately, Maka's correct. It is too dark for us to safely travel. We should set up camp.”

“Sorry. If you two were that impatient, you should have said something.”

“Don't apologize, girl. Better to lose a day of travel than to be in a situation where your skill with a bow is needed only to find that it is lacking.”

Realizing that Maka wasn't actually angry with me, just frustrated because she had a way to get revenge and had lost the day, I relaxed. She may not have intended to hurt me with her attack earlier, but it was enough to make me extremely wary of her.

We had a quiet dinner and then settled down to sleep, setting the same watch order as the night before.
AQ DF MQ  Post #: 7
1/10/2014 15:17:18   
Wolf Rider

It looked like sleep and I weren't ever going to get along. I had never suffered from insomnia before, but this was the second night in a row that I couldn't sleep. I wasn't sure why. I wasn't worried about the barrier not holding. Those stones couldn't be moved from the outside, and anything entering it alerted me.

Perhaps that was the reason. In my determination that nothing should breach the barrier without my knowledge, I hadn't set up limitations on the barrier. Small insects were constantly moving through it, and the barrier dutifully alerted me to this.

Walking over to one of the stones, and alerting Maka who was on watch for the next hour, I grabbed one and quietly wove the restrictions into it. Small creatures such as insects weren't a threat, there was no need for the barrier to alert me to them.

Setting the stone down and putting the barrier back into place, I walked back to my makeshift bed, almost chuckling at how idiotic I had been to not set even the simplest of precautions into the barrier's sensitivity to intrusion.

"If you're so afraid of the night, perhaps you should return to your safe sorcerer home with your books and your studies."

"What makes you say I'm afraid of the night? The barrier is just a precaution. It will slow down anything trying to get to us, and give me time to wake up whoever is sleeping. It also prevents anything from surprising us. Not even you can watch all sides at once. Should something try and sneak up on us, the barrier will keep them from being successful."

"Then why is it that I can smell fear and anxiety radiating off of you? It's a pungent odor that's even worse than the stench of magic."

Was I afraid? I had no reason to be. I knew that the barrier would protect all three of us from any threat from killing us before we had a chance to fight back. And yet if I was being honest, I was afraid.

"Well, I'm not afraid of the night like you seem to think I am. But you're right. I am afraid. I don't know what I'm walking into. For someone to be able to affect the barrier from a distance means that it's a sorcerer with a tremendous amount of magic. Far more than I have. Even if we manage to find the place where he's hiding, there's no way that we could hope to catch him unaware. The magical defenses will be extraordinary. It could kill us before we even reach him.

"I'm afraid that I made a mistake in not turning around immediately. Ava may be skilled with the bow, but she doesn't know what dangers this world has. She's faced down Terrors, but for all I know, it's been luck that she's survived this long. I was tasked with keeping her safe so that I could bring her to the elders. And I'm not sure that my magic is powerful enough to fulfill that task."

"Then go." I looked at Maka in surprise.

"The only reason your elders sent you was because you can sense magic being woven. Otherwise they would have sent someone older and wiser. If you tell them that you aren't up for the task, they'll send another. You will have failed in your task, but you would still be alive."

Maka's words hit me like one of Chua's spells. I was afraid to fail. To let down everyone. And I was afraid to die. That was why I had made the barriers so sensitive. Why I had been losing sleep. I was terrified that I wasn't up for the task I was given. I didn't want to die. But I know if I could return to the complex and call myself a sorcerer if I didn't at least try. Weaving magic, studying it, has great risks. If anything goes wrong, the backlash could be fatal. And even spells that don't backlash can make the sorcerer look a fool.

All of the spells I use in my day to day life I use because sorcerers before me were brave enough to risk failure, and even risk death to fully understand their gift.

"No. I'm not going to run away like a coward. I'll complete this task. I knew the risks when I accepted it. When I return to the complex to maintain the barrier separating the worlds, I will return knowing that I succeeded in a dangerous task, and ensured that there was still a barrier to maintain."

Maka laughed in satisfaction. I was shocked at how well she had manipulated me. First she forced me to look at myself and realize just how much I was afraid, and then she had goaded me in to facing that fear and moving past it. She had never intended to let me leave like that.

"Sorcerers are among the smartest in the land. How is it that you were able to manipulate me like that?"

"I'm a mother, boy. There were many times where I had to make my children see just what they were afraid of and summon the courage to face it without forcing them into anything. Now go to sleep. Your magics are no good to us if you don't have the mental capacity to use them."

I settled back in my bedding, but doubted I would be able to sleep. Maka had given me too much to think about.

I was afraid. Terrified even. I knew that now. But it didn't tell me what to do about it. How could I ignore the fear to concentrate on weaving my magic when I need to? What would I do if I needed to use it and froze in terror?

I wasn't this afraid until those Shadow Terrors attacked the second night. I had tried to make it seem as if it was only slightly difficult, but well within my ability to handle. I felt that I had no choice because of Ava.

I knew that she was uncertain about this world and incredibly nervous. She doesn't seem to realize this yet, but the position of a flier's wings tells a person what that flier is feeling. When she wasn't focused on having them against her back, they were always flared slightly, ready to be used in a moment's notice. From what I had read on fliers, their wings only took that position when I flier was in distress. It was similar to the stance that sorcerers took when we were preparing to gather magic that we might have to call upon in an instant in a way. Both were positions where we were tense and ready to act in a moment.

I wasn't sure if what I had read was correct or not, but it made sense. And if it was correct, despite what Ava tried to let us believe, she was constantly on edge while she was here. I felt that I had to seem like my magic was greater than it was to put her at ease.

But those Terrors had almost killed me. The three of them had surrounded me and were snarling as if arguing with each other about which one of them was going to kill me. I was desperately trying to reach out to my magic but because of how afraid I was, I couldn't feel it.

I've heard all my life that Shadow Terrors got their name not because of their frightening appearance, but because of their roars. They were said to have an almost magical property that instills one with a paralytic terror that was almost impossible to break out of. I had always believed those stories to be just that, stories. But hearing those roars was indeed making me too afraid to move; too afraid to even think.

One of them leaped up to land on me. I knew that they would go for the throat so I dropped to my knees, aided by the weight of the Terror. It seemed to be a signal to the other two, because they leaped in the next instant. In desperation, I finally managed to grasp a small amount of magic. It was just enough to force them away. Inside my own small barrier, I gathered as much magic as I could. When I released it, I was fortunate. It managed to slam into all three terrors, shoving them away forcefully. Unlike Ava's, mine didn't die. Instead they flew off, I had assumed they had left to find easier prey. But if what Maka had said was true, then it was possible that these Terrors were under someone's control. Which could mean that they were reporting back to someone.

Then a horrible thought occurred to me.

Bolting upright, I startled both Maka and Ava, who had just taken up her shift.

"What's wrong, Kel?"

"I just had a thought. To the best of my knowledge, no one has attempted to tamper with the barrier since I headed out. Whoever has been trying to interfere with the barrier wouldn't be doing that without a reason. He wouldn't just give up.

"It's not an unreasonable assumption that it takes three days to gather the magic needed to try an assault on the barrier, since both attempts were three days apart. Meaning that there should have been two more attempts on the barrier."

"Could you just be going the wrong way? You picked the closest destination to search first, but what if a different one is being used? If that's the case, then no, you wouldn't sense any attempts."

"It's possible, Ava. Let me contact the elders." Pulling out the contact stone, I focused on it. The answer was immediate.

"What do you have to report, Kele?"

"Elder, I have a question that might be important. Have there been anymore attempts on the barrier?"

"No. The barrier has remained untouched since you left. Have you anything to report?"

"Not at the moment, Elder. I'm about two days out from the first place I am going to look for whoever is tampering with the barrier."

"Report back when you have news." The elder didn't give me time to respond, breaking off the communication immediately.

"Maybe he gave up. Or maybe he's taking longer to gather more magic to make the spell more powerful."

"Or perhaps he knows we're coming. The books say that for those with the power to summon creatures, those summons are able to relay information to you. It is theoretically possible to combine transformation spells with a summon spell. Meaning that the Shadow Terrors that escaped that first night we met, Ava, could possibly have returned to whoever is tampering with the barrier."

"You suspect that they told him that there was a sorcerer out in the open?"

"Yes, Maka. Perhaps even Ava was mentioned. He had to know that the council would send someone to investigate the attempts on the barrier. He could be preparing for us."

"In that case, we have an advantage. He doesn't know about me. I will be a surprise element that he won't have prepared for."

"Perhaps, Maka. But if he is as powerful as I suspect, then whatever advantage of surprise your presence brings will be nullified by his strength."

"You're being a pessimist, Kel. We have to try, even if this guy does know we're coming. We have no way of knowing, and since we only have a rough idea of his power, no way to practically prepare for it anyway. So all we can do is try and hope that your five ghosts are keeping an eye on you."

"I suppose you're right. But I have a feeling that we're being toyed with. I know that my magic is powerful. It's why I was one of the chosen few that will be tasked with maintaining the barrier. But whoever is behind the barrier attempts is more powerful than I am. Perhaps even as powerful as Merlin or Rhian. I can't imagine someone with that much magical strength. I certainly can't imagine how we can face it."

"There is no point in worrying about the outcome of a hunt before you've even scented the prey. All it does is waste energy that should be conserved."

Maka was right, of course. But I couldn't help but feel that there were precautions we hadn't thought of. Steps that we could take to be at our peak. Hearing the ruffle of feathers, I glanced at Ava, who had shifted to be more comfortable, causing her wings to shift audibly.

Reaching into my Pocket, I pulled out my map. Fliers were said to stay in the mountains. But there was one place where they were known to stay. Ava was already a skilled flier, especially since all of her flying skills were self-taught. But they weren't as good as they could be. It was a few days out of the way, and their was no way to predict how long we would have to be there, but it was probably a necessary delay.

"Speak your mind, boy."

"I think that we should detour into the mountains. There's a group of fliers that's known to live in the nearby mountain range. They might be willing to teach Ava what they know."

"I don't need to learn how to fly. I'm already good at it."

"Actually, Ava, you're only partially correct. You are skilled at flying. But you're not as skilled as you could be. You can fly in a straight line easily, but I've seen you fly. You're turns are slow and awkward. They could teach you how to fly fluidly, and be completely at home in the air."

:Can we afford the delay? You implied that time was of the essence, boy."

"It is, Maka. But I don't think we can afford for any of us to be at a lower skill than we could be. You've had your ability to shift all your life. I've been able to weave magic all of mine. But Ava's only had her wings for ten days. All of her flying skills have been self-taught, which says a great deal about her intelligence and determination. But fliers half her age who have spent time using their wings all their lives are more skilled than she is. We can't afford not to detour. It's the only known location for fliers. If we don't take this detour now, we won't have another chance."

"You have a point, boy. But you seem to be forgetting that the choice ultimately lies with Ava, not us." She turned to Ava. "Well? What do you think, girl? Are you willing to learn more about your new wings?"

Ava looked thoughtful, and shockingly, she also looked afraid. Slowly, she nodded.

"If we're in as much danger from this guy as Kel thinks we are, I suppose I don't have a choice. I don't want to be the reason we fail just because I'm not a master at flying. If we survive, I wouldn't be able to live with myself if that were the case."

"All right. I know how to get to the mountains, but it will take a few days, even taking the quickest route."

"How many days is a few?"

"If we travel quickly, Ava, then we should be at the mountains in three days if nothing delays us."

"There's always something that gets in the way, Kel. Like for example, if you keep not sleeping, you'll end up passing out on the way, which will slow us down because we'll have to wait for you to wake up."

Taking the hint, I settled back into my bedroll, though I wasn't sure if I'd be able to sleep. I had too much on my mind.

Despite that belief, the next moment that I was aware of was when Ava was shaking me awake well into the morning.

"Rise and shine, sleeping beauty. Maka and I let you sleep this long because we felt sorry for you. But if you want to have time to eat, I suggest getting up."

"You didn't wake me for my shift last night."

"You didn't tell me you were the next Sherlock Holmes. Such a brilliant deduction could only have been made by someone of Holmes's deductive abilities. Now hurry up. You're the one going on and on about how we're in a hurry, yet you're the one that we're waiting on."

I wanted to ask Ava what had her so visibly agitated, but thought better about it. It might have been the prospect of meeting other fliers. I could tell that she was getting used to her wings, but learning under the other fliers, if they were willing to teach her, would mean having to fully embrace them. I wasn't sure if she was willing to do that.

When we broke for lunch, Ava approached me with her bow in hand.

"I was wondering if you could help me practice."

"What do you need?"

"Moving targets. Do you have anything that you can throw so I can try to hit them? I've only ever shot at stationary targets, so I need to practice on moving ones if I want to improve my skills."

"I don't have anything, but I can create rings magically and move them."

"That should work."

Reaching out for my magic, and ignoring Maka's frustrated sigh that Ava was going to spend more time training than traveling again, I wove a ring. It had no substance, but it was enough to be able to give Ava something to shoot at.

Moving it slowly, I watched Ava track it, aim slightly ahead of it, and then fire. Unsurprisingly since I was moving the ring so slowly, Ava's aim was flawless.

Moving it again at that same speed to allow Ava to get used to having a moving target for a few more shots, we both agreed that I should move the ring faster.

Not wanting to discourage her by giving her a target that moved too quickly, I only moved the ring slightly faster. But it was still enough to give Ava trouble. Her first six shots at the faster target missed by a small margin.

After she managed to successfully shoot through the ring on her seventh shot, she put away her bow.

"We should probably get going before I waste another day on archery."

"If you want a practical moving target, girl, then aim for a bird when we stop next." As usual, Maka's tone was brusque, but she wasn't actually irritated with us for the time we took.

We walked the entire day, luckily not seeing anything more dangerous than a baby scorpion. When we finally decided to stop for dinner, Ava took Maka's advice when we accidentally spooked a bird into flight.

Quickly drawing her bow and notching an arrow, she followed it as quickly as she could and fired. Unsurprisingly, even to Ava, her shot missed by a large margin. The bird was moving too quickly for Ava's current level of skill.

"Didn't think I'd hit it, but I lost nothing by trying."

"Ava, Maka. I contacted the elders and they sent me bedding for the two of you if you would like it."

"We've been traveling for how long now? And you only just now thought to ask for bedding for someone besides yourself? Honestly, Kel, I don't know if you're insensitive or just rude."

"I apologize, Ava. It is not that it had not occurred to me to ask. It is more that I was instructed to contact the elders only when I had something to report. I feared to risk their wrath by contacting them for a luxury as I believed they would consider bedding to be."

Judging from the look Ava gave me, she didn't fully believe this, but she let the matter drop without more than a glare in my direction.

Reaching into my Pocket, I pulled out the bag that the elders had provided with bedding for both Ava and Maka. The elders had indeed been irritated with me for contacting them with a request like this, but overlooked what they called my 'abuse of their generosity' as they did recognize that it was only courteous to send something for them to sleep on.

Handing both of them the bedding, I allowed them to observe it and decide what they did and didn't need. Ava decided that she didn't need a top blanket, claiming that her wings kept her warm enough and what they didn't keep warm the fire did, though she was grateful for the bottom blanket and pillow.

Maka kept both, saying that she rarely slept as a lynx but when she did the bedding wouldn't be necessary. They both thanked me for the consideration, though it seemed more as if they felt they had to thank me than that they did so out of genuine gratitude.

For the next two days, I noticed that Ava was more and more anxious. Her wings were rarely further back than almost fully extended. One time during a small period of rest I offered her a water canteen and she shot five feet into the air in surprise at the interruption. Maka found it amusing, though it might have been Ava's screaming at me for sneaking up on her. Apologizing for startling her, I wondered if we were doing the correct thing in urging her to learn how to fully use her wings.

"Ava, you realize that you don't have to do this, right? If you don't want to meet other fliers, just say so and we'll turn around and head back to our original destination."

Ava was silent for so long that I wondered if she was going to accept the offer to turn around. She was definitely considering it. After a few minutes, she shook her head.

"No. I'm not a coward. I'm not going to run just because I'm oddly jumpy today."

"It's more than just today, girl. You're scent has been one of anxiety since I met you. I imagine the boy had other ways of seeing your anxiety, however."

I nodded in affirmation of this.

"Fliers' emotions can be read through how they carry their wings. Unless a flier focuses on them, their wings will almost broadcast their emotional state. Yours have been constantly flared since I met you, ready to always bring you quickly to the air, where very few enemies can hurt you. I've been wondering if part of that nervousness is because of me pinning you to that stone when we first met. It told you that you were powerless against me, which made me wonder if you were worried that at any second I would repeat that attack. I've tried to do what I can to put you at ease, letting you know that that incident wouldn't be repeated, but I'm not certain it's been successful."

"I didn't realize my emotions were so easy to read. Or so complex. I didn't even notice I was nervous until we started heading to the other fliers. I'm afraid that I'll never be able to fly unless I fully embrace these growths. And any time I'm not in the air, I despise them. Meaning that I'll never be able to use them, which means I'm a weak link, something to use against you and Maka in a dangerous situation."

"While it would be easier if you weren't afraid of your new self, girl, you don't have to constantly love your wings to use them. There are times when the lynx within me is a hated foe, causing me pain every time I call out to it, and near constant anger as its temper is easily brought to the fore. Yet I can shift with ease and do so quickly. I am fully able to use both my human and animal bodies.

"What you do need is to be at peace with this. I know what I am. I am a shifter. There is an animal that co-exists with me. Do you know who you are?"

"Of course. I'm Ava Blackwell. I'm an only child and I love being in the mountains. And... and... that's it. I don't really know more than that..." The thought that she didn't know who she was was a terrifying concept to her, which even if it wasn't visible in her face would have been impossible to miss because of her wings. They where fully extended and halfway to the horizontal position needed to launch Ava into the air. When Ava noticed this, she focused on her wings and slowly folded them back. Though the second she stopped focusing on them to keep them folded, they flared to almost fully extended.

"Relax girl. You're in a world that you don't know or understand. Only two weeks ago you didn't have your wings. Now you do. It's understandable that you would be confused and afraid. Learn who you are now, and you'll be fine."

< Message edited by Gingkage -- 1/10/2014 15:26:05 >
AQ DF MQ  Post #: 8
1/10/2014 15:27:53   
Wolf Rider

What Maka was saying made sense. She was probably correct in what she said. But I didn't know if I wanted to be 'at peace' with these new growths. I was only traveling with Kel because he promised to take me to people who might be able to get rid of these disgusting things. Getting used to them, even liking them would mean that I wouldn't want to be rid of them when the chance finally came.

Before I had much time to consider what Maka and Kel were saying, we heard someone shouting at us from a distance.

Looking up, we saw five people with wings like mine coming towards us. Standing up, my wings shot out, ready to launch me into the air.

“Ava, no. they're not attacking us. They probably want to know what we're doing here.” I listened to Kel and stayed on the ground, but all I wanted to do was fly away as fast as I could.

In a short period of time, all five of them landed, surrounding us completely.

“Who are you? What are you doing here? Few come so close to the mountains. If you are lost, then we can escort you to the nearest town.”

“We're not lost, Winged Ones,” Kel said, bowing differentially. “My name is Kele Adahy, and we came here hoping to request your aid.”

Ignoring Kel, the leader, a man who looked to be Maka's age with brown wings looked at me.

“Why the anxiety girl? You're among your own. Where are you from? We know our own people, and I have never seen you before.”

“My name is Ava Blackwell. And...” I broke off, uncertain how much was known about Kel's magic barrier.

“She is from the other side, Winged One. The barrier was attacked two weeks ago. The benign magics that the barrier is woven from gifted her wings and then, registering her as one of our own people, sent her here. She has spent her entire life up to that point without wings, and while she is competent in the air, we were hoping that you could teach her how to fly with the speed, grace, and ease that your youngest children would have.”

The man looked at me, seeming to study me.

“You are able to fly? If people from your world don't have wings, then who taught you?”

“No one, sir. They're fairly intuitive, making them easy to work with once I learned the mechanics of them.”

“Show me.”

Taking the hint, I extended my wings and flapped them a few times to get me a few feet in the air. Flying in a slow circle, I landed behind Kel and tucked my wings in. Realizing that I was looking and acting like a fool as they still knew where I was and some of them could clearly see me, I stepped forward to a few feet away from the man. I wasn't sure why I was so self-conscious. Maybe it was because these people had had their wings their entire lives, and even from a distance I could see that they were much better at flying than I was. Knowing that they were judging my skill was nerve-wracking, and made me act like a child at her first archery contest.

“For being self-taught, you fly well, Ava. But you're flapping your wings too much. Let the wind carry you to where you need to go. And you need to learn how to move only one wing. Your turns are sloppy and awkward.”

“Will you teach me?”

“Do you want to learn?” The way this man was looking at me made me wonder if he knew what I really felt about my wings. Considering what Kel had said a few minutes ago, perhaps he did.

“The reason that I am with Kel and Maka is the assault on the barrier that was mentioned. I cannot slow down and be a danger to them. I need to learn. I can't afford to not be at my best. If you will teach me, you would have my gratitude.”

“That wasn't what I asked. Do you want to learn? I cannot teach someone to fly who doesn't have the desire to learn.”

Did I? The honest answer was 'no' I wanted nothing to do with these wings. But this wasn't optional. Either these people would teach me, or I would have to teach myself.

“I don't think I can successfully lie to you, so I'll have to be honest. No, I don't want to learn. I want nothing to do with these wings. They're foreign objects that I was never meant to have. They've cost me my family, who by now must think I'm dead. They've cost me my home, since I would never be able to walk in my town and be accepted with these things on my back. They've destroyed my life, and all they've given me in return is somewhat enjoyable flights.

“No, I don't want to learn how to use these wings. If I could, I would chop them off in a heartbeat and get my life back. But I don't have that luxury. Just like I don't have the luxury of being less than a good flier. If you don't teach me, I'll teach myself. And it might not be perfect, but if I'm not a good flier, it won't be because I didn't try.”

I was expecting them to refuse to teach me anything, point us away from their mountain, and leave. Instead, the leader of these five smiled approvingly at me.

“Then let's begin.”

“I don't-”

“Desire to learn rarely exists. I needed to know if you had the will to learn. If you had lied and told me that you badly wanted to learn, I would have refused to teach you. But your honesty impresses me. You believed that if you didn't wish to learn, I would refuse to teach you, yet you still told the truth. If what that boy says is true, then I would have been very surprised if you loved your wings and wanted to learn everything about them, which would have been the easy lie to tell. I hope that, through learning to use your wings, you will grow to appreciate them. I am sorry that they have come to you at such a high price, but hopefully you will learn to see them as a gift, instead of as a curse.”

I doubted that, but chose to remain silent. It was amazing that these people were willing to teach me at all, I wasn't going to ruin this chance.

“We will escort you to our home. Your friends are welcome as well, though the climb is a difficult one.

“Shifter, you are the only one who has neglected to introduce yourself.”

“None of you have given your names. But I am Maka Donoma. Now who are you, to demand my name in such an arrogant tone?”

“My name as Cadell Derog. My fellow fliers are Dai Elysud, Glyn Harri, Madoc Rolant, and Aderyn Braith.” With the exception of Aderyn, all of them were male. And it appeared that a flier's wings always matched that person's hair color. Dai and Madoc both had brown wings like Cadell, Glyn's wings were red, and Aderyn had wings that were almost as black as mine.

“Follow us. We'll guide you to the easiest part of the mountain to climb.” The five of them took off and flew slowly so that we could keep up. I had started to follow on foot when Aderyn landed in front of me.

“Why are you still on the ground? You have wings, use them.” Aderyn obviously had no intention of letting me walk with Kel and Maka. Glaring at her in annoyance, I extended my wings and obligingly flew upwards to join Cadell and the others, Aderyn following me closely, probably to make sure I didn't try to walk.

“I realize that you would probably prefer to walk, Ava,” Cadell said. “But you asked to learn to use your wings, and that's what you're going to do. Dai, take her to the school.”

Dai nodded in acknowledgment and broke away from the group of fliers. Not having the space to follow, I dropped down a few feet and then flew forwards and to the left, arching myself upwards when I had the space to do so.

Once Dai knew that I could keep up, he shot forwards, making me work harder to catch up with him. Once I had built up speed, I let myself glide and, to my surprise, I didn't slow down like I thought I would.

Dai and I must have flown for ten minutes before he angled himself towards a doorway. It was a little difficult for me to get to since it involved turning and flying at an awkward angle, but I managed to enter after three tries.

“I can see why you would want to learn how to use your wings properly. That entrance shouldn't have taken as long as it did.

“This is the school where our children are taught to use their wings. It will be a good place for you to practice.”

Looking around, I saw that this 'school' was a giant obstacle course, with rings to fly through, sharp turns that I needed to make, a slalom, and areas that I needed to fly over or under. Looking at it again, I saw that there were two different colors on all of the parts.

“Do the colors tell me which way I go?”

“Yes. Follow the blue path first, and then the orange one on the return flight. Begin when you're ready.”

“You're not going to show me how to do it?”

“Why? You can see the path you need to take. You simply need to follow it.”

“Am I being timed?”


“Wait, I don't-” before I could finish my sentence, Dai was pushing me off the ledge. Much like the first day when I got my wings, they automatically extended to catch me. Turning around, I landed back on the ledge that I had been standing on.

“What are you waiting for? This is a child's course. You shouldn't have much difficulty with it.” Glaring at him, I dropped off the ledge so that I wouldn't get pushed off again and started flying.
I was terrified. From the ledge, the course didn't look so bad, but once I actually started flying, the difficulty of it made itself known.

Deciding that stalling wouldn't make it any easier, I moved myself forward, going slowly so that I got a feel for the course. Unsurprisingly, the slalom was the most difficult part for me as it involved constantly turning, the sharp turns being only slightly easier. The round flight through the course took what I estimated to be fifteen minutes.

“Well, you're obviously a new flier. Before now, I've only seen young children take the course that slowly.” Dai looked amused, but he wasn't being hurtful in his words. I got the feeling that he was trying to goad me into flying quickly, but I didn't see the point in that.

“Trust your wings. They can carry you through the course.”

“I can't fly quickly until I'm familiar with where I'm flying.”

“So if a sorcerer is attacking you – and from what you and the boy said, and those pretty arrows on your back, you will almost certainly find yourself being attacked – you won't be able to dodge the attacks since you won't be familiar with the pattern of the attacks?” I hadn't thought of that. I wouldn't have the luxury of careful maneuvering if I was being attacked.

“Allow yourself to make mistakes here, so that you won't make them when your in danger. You'll crash into the course. You'll crash several times, and find yourself getting more and more frustrated with each time. That's how you learn. Several years ago, when the school was first started, sorcerers were allowed into our home. They shaped the courses and spelled them so that they would never break, and that even when we crashed into them, we wouldn't be harmed. You're in no danger here, it's a luxury you should take advantage of.”

Dai was right and we both knew it. But actually letting myself trust wings that I hadn't even had for a full two weeks yet was a terrifying concept.

“Is this truly so terrifying?” Dai seemed genuinely puzzled, though his question was so unexpected that I jumped and only these things on my back kept me from a very long drop.

“So my emotions really can be read by looking at my wings.”

“Yes they can. It's almost impossible for us to hide what we're feeling. The part of us that controls our wings reacts to our emotional states so that we're always ready to use our wings when we need to. It's good because it means it's almost impossible for us to lie, but it can be inconvenient.

“But you never answered my question, Ava. Is it truly so terrifying to trust your wings?”

“It is when up until two weeks ago I've never had them. Where I'm from, no one has wings, magic isn't real as far as most of the world is concerned, and people who are even slightly different from everyone else is dubbed a 'freak.'

“I ran away from everyone I care about because I knew they wouldn't accept these wings. I didn't want to see them being horrified of me for something that wasn't my fault. Even though these wings saved my life when they first grew out of my back as I was falling to my death, they're the same wings that have caused me nothing but anguish and have effectively ruined my life. And you're asking me to trust them completely? What good have they done to deserve that trust? As much trouble as they've caused me, it would have been better if I had died that day.”

“I've had my wings my entire life. I can't understand how someone with the gift that we've been given could feel such hatred for them. You said you enjoy flying, so why can't you embrace your wings? Can't you see anything good in having them?”

“No, I really can't. I wasn't meant to have wings like you were. For me, there's nothing good in them.”

“Run the course, Ava.” Both Dai and I were surprised at the sudden intrusion from Cadell. “Run the course so that I can gauge your abilities.”

“How long have you been here?”

“Long enough, now run the course.”

Sighing since I wasn't going to get any answers unless I ran the course, I did as I was told, moving slightly more quickly than the first attempt. I ran into what seemed to be every obstacle, and was frustrated when I finally arrived back at the ledge.



“Again!” The tone of Cadell's voice combined with him suddenly extending his wings was enough to startle me off the ledge. Since I was airborne, I again ran the course, doing what seemed to be worse than before.

I had barely landed on the ledge when Cadell was again ordering me to do it again. And again. And still again.

After two hours of doing the course and failing to do it well, I was frustrated, bruised from my numerous encounters with the obstacles, and on the verge of tears.

When I again landed on the ledge, I was already starting to turn to run the course yet again. But instead of barking out another order to make a fool of myself further, Cadell had different instructions for me.

“Fly with me, Ava.” I was surprised at the new tone of voice. Instead of the unforgiving order to make a fool of myself repeatedly, this one was a kinder, more understanding tone.

Following Cadell out of the large room, he let himself fall off the outside ledge, flying a few feet away and then turning around to wait for me.

After hours of making a fool of myself in the air, I wanted nothing to do with flying and less to do with Cadell. Despite the temptation to walk away, I had asked to be trained by him. I had known when I asked that it would be difficult and frustrating, and that Cadell's demanding me to repeatedly embarrass myself in the class was the best way for me to learn.

Sighing, because it wasn't really his fault I was so frustrated, I let myself fall off the ledge, not having enough room to flap my wings. Taking longer than I needed to to reach Cadell to give myself a chance to calm down, I eventually reached the point that he was at.

Satisfied that I was going to obey his instructions to fly with him, he turned and started flying at a leisurely pace, a nice change from the constant demands to fly faster and faster in the course.

Despite the slow pace, it wasn't a lengthy flight, lasting only ten minutes. When we landed, we were at a high point on the mountain, probably the highest we could safely get and still be able to breath and use our wings.

“You can't reach this place except by flying. The path is too unstable for a human's weight, and after a certain point turns into nearly sheer rock.”

“Okay, so I can get somewhere that Kel and Maka can't. I don't see why we're here, though.”

“Because you're not looking.” Taking the hint, I walked the few feet forward to the edge of the outcropping and looked.

And was completely stunned at what I saw.

It was like the view I had had at home, only better. Because I was higher up the mountain, the air was clearer. I could see farther than I could at home, and unlike my home where despite feeling like I could see the world from that outcropping, this actually seemed like it. At home, all I really had a view of was the town. Which while beautiful from a distance, wasn't impressive.

From this place, the only town that I could see was too far away to make out so much as a single building. The rest of what I could see was the actual landscape. There was a forest that I could see a few trees of, what looked to be a lake not far away from it, I could even see Maka's territory from this place.

Perhaps it was the way the light was hitting it, perhaps it was my exhaustion playing tricks with my mind, perhaps it was a combination of those things, or perhaps it was something I couldn't begin to imagine, but I had never seen a more beautiful view.

“When I was a child, I was just as frustrated with the course as you are.” Cadell had been silent for a few minutes by that point, I had almost forgotten that he was there.

“When you first learn the course, first learn how to use your wings, it's easy to feel nothing but hatred for them. My teacher, seeing how frustrated I was, took me here, a place that cannot be reached otherwise. I found it impossible to hate something that had given me this view.

“After I learned about this place, every time I would get frustrated with anything I would come here. It was a temporary escape. A place where I could breath. When I started teaching children to fly, I would take them here when they reached that same level of frustration. I've found that it's always helped those people calm down and breath.”

“Well, I can see why. A view like this makes everything better.” After a few moments, I sighed.

“I get why you're pushing me as hard as you are. I can never get better if I don't push myself, and I would never push myself as hard as you are. But knowing that doesn't help when you're running into the same obstacle for the twentieth time. And it helps even less after the twenty-fifth time.”

“For a novice flier, you're doing exceptionally well. I'm very impressed that you managed to teach yourself as much as you have in the small time you've had your wings. You learn quickly, and adapt equally quickly. The only thing stopping you from excelling at the course is that you're trying to control your wings. Don't try to outhink the course. Just let yourself run it and trust your wings. There is a part of flying that is instinctive, and that is the part that you need to stop fighting. You know what you need to do, you simply need to do it.”

What Cadell was saying made sense. But I didn't think that I could do it.

“Ava, what are you so afraid of?”

“You're the second person to point out that I'm afraid today, you know.”

“Then you should know what it is that's causing you this much terror. Your wings haven't once relaxed since I met you. And according to Kele, this is how you've been since he met you.

“So what are you so afraid of?”

“Two weeks ago everything was normal. Then I was suddenly given these two things on my back. Three days later I found myself in a world that's similar and yet so different to the one I've known all my life, what's not to be afraid of?”

“It's not the unknown you fear, and we both know it. So what are you so afraid of?”

“I'm afraid of flying. More accurately, I'm afraid of what flying means. I've lost everything that I've known my entire life. I'm afraid that the more I use these wings, the more I let myself become a person of this world, which Kele says that's what the magics of this world identify me as, the more of myself I'll lose. I already don't know who I am anymore. I'm afraid to lose what little of myself I have left.”

Cadell was silent, thinking about what I had said.

“I can't help you with that, Ava. You'll never be able to truly fly until you can accept that your wings are part of who you are now, and that's an acceptance that no one can force. Like Dai, I cannot understand why someone with the gift you have been given would be so afraid of it.”

“Try to picture losing your wings, then. Inexplicably, irreversibly, your wings, that you've had all your life, were gone. Suddenly you can't ever fly again. Could you just accept that right away?”

“No, I couldn't. My wings are a part of me.” Cadell laughed humorlessly. “I understand. You've had too many changes to come to terms with in too short a period of time. Changes that have forced you away from the life you've known. Were our positions reversed, I imagine that I would cling to what I had left from the life I had lost for as long as I could.

“That doesn't change the fact that you need to learn to trust your wings to carry you the way you need them to if you want to use them to their fullest capabilities. I don't know if you will ever be able to fly as well as you could until you've adapted to this new life, even if you can't accept it, but I will do my best to bring you to a level of competence that should keep you safe from most dangers.”

I was grateful that Cadell was trying to understand, and even more grateful that he was willing to work with me until I was as good as I could be without making me embrace these growths on my back.

“If you're unwilling to trust your new instincts, then we'll have to work on making your reflexes as sharp as possible. Fortunately, your sorcerer friend is willing to help in any way he can.”

“How is that fortunate? What are you going to do? Have him attack me?”

“Yes. You'll train in the school to learn how to maneuver around obstacles quickly, and since your friend is certain that this task you have offered to help him with will be dangerous, to improve your speed and reflexes, he will attack you magically.”

“Do I at least get to hit him back?”

“No.” Sighing, I decided to just try and learn as quickly as I could to get this over with.

“All right. If it's the best way, it's the best way. We may as well keep going. Standing here enjoying the view isn't getting my schooling done.”

Following Cadell back to the school, he made it clear that the leisurely pace from before was for my benefit so that I would have a chance to relax and calm down. The pace he set back to the school was much more rigorous and took less than half the time that the trip to the outcropping had.

“Take a moment to rest and then do the course again.”

Cadell's idea of a 'moment' was very different from mine. I had barely had a chance to look at the course before Cadell was barking at me to move.

Having learned that the only way to avoid being force off the ledge and into the course was to obey instructions to fly immediately, I let myself fall off the ledge and yet again tried to complete the course.

The course immediately had me turning at a sharp angle so that I could fly through a ring. Then I had to shoot upwards practically before I had cleared it to hit another ring. Then fall and turn almost sideways so that I could hit the slalom, in my case literally. Through the slalom and then dip down for a series of over and under bars that I could usually make it through.

I had almost made it to the last obstacle before repeating it when a flash of light caught my eye. It ended up being a small bright energy ball that was hurtling towards me. Quickly turning myself sideways, I ended up slamming myself into a larger ball of energy. It didn't hurt when it hit me, being closer to the sensation of a limb falling asleep, but it was unpleasant.

I didn't have time to think about that, however. More energy balls of various sizes and speeds were being launched at me.

Over, under, under, turn sideways, quickly finish the roll to avoid another ball. That was all I could think about, yet somehow I managed to see that I was almost at the ring that I needed to fly through.

Forcing myself to speed up, I shot through the ring as quickly as I could and nearly careened into the pole that I was supposed to fly around to repeat the course on the flight back, having to madly flap my wings to put me in a vertical position to avoid it.

Only it looked like Kel was going to keep up his attacks for the entire flight. Deciding that taking time to think about this was only going to get me hit, I flew around the pole as quickly as I could and again shot through the ring.

It looked like Kel was doing me the courtesy of letting me see where his attacks were coming from, though it was only a small mercy.

Seeing that my aim was off for the part of the obstacle that I was supposed to be going towards courtesy of Kel, I put myself into a leftwards spin, coming out of it barely in time to shoot myself upwards to navigate the bars. Navigating the bars as well as dodging Kel's attacks had me flying a course that had me crashing into the slalom, a thing which required me to quickly correct my course. Because of the speed I was going at, I couldn't take the slalom slowly as I had been doing, which made the turns sharper. I would weave past one and immediately have to turn to weave past another one. Making it through the slalom, the only obstacles left were the staggered rings. This was the only part of the course that I was comfortable with, as I could go through the rings with relative confidence and skill. I had never tried it at this speed, however.

The speed I was going at made going through the rings slightly more difficult, but I managed to go through them without crashing. Once I had made it through the last ring, the attacks stopped. Breathing hard from exertion, I headed back towards the ledge, landing sloppily and with my wings shaking.

“You flew well, Ava.” Cadell's praise did little to cheer me up, or calm me down. “You flew almost as well as some of our younger children can. Do you even realize what happened?”

“Kel started attacking me and I forced myself to complete the course while trying to dodge. It's not hard to realize that.”

“What happened, Ava, is that you stopped thinking about the course, or your flying, and simply flew. For a brief moment, when everything depended on your flying abilities, you trusted yourself, and your wings. That was the best that I've ever seen you run this course. We're done for the day. Dai will take you to the food hall. Aderyn will escort you to the area that you and your friends have been given to sleep.”

Cadell flew towards the other side of the room that the course was in, likely to show Kel where to go, while Dai and I left.

“Cadell's right, you know. You did really well that last run. I know that being attacked while trying to navigate obstacles isn't a fun way to learn, but you have to admit, it's effective.”

“I suppose.” I wasn't really focusing on what Dai was saying, distracted by what Cadell had said earlier. Had I really been trusting my wings? That was the one thing I didn't want to do, and what I had thought Cadell wasn't going to force me to do.

Yet I had to admit that even though the course had been made more difficult, I had never had such an easy time navigating it. And I hadn't lost myself. I felt the same as I had before, just more exhausted. Was it possible that my fear of losing myself if I trusted these wings was unfounded?

When I entered the food hall, I immediately saw Maka and Kel and took a seat next to them.

“Ava, I'm sorry. Cadell suggested that it might help, and the energy balls are harmless, but some of those hits looked like they hurt.”

“Shut up, Kel. They didn't hurt, and it apparently worked. Both Dai and Cadell told me that that was the best that I had flown that course.” Maka looked amused at the recounting of that last flight.

“If it was effective, then there is no point in complaining, girl. You said that you would commit to learning to use your wings. A bold statement, but now you must live up to it. And it appears that you suffered nothing worse than a few bruises that will fade in time.”
AQ DF MQ  Post #: 9
1/10/2014 15:28:53   
Wolf Rider

These children are amusing. Kele sat down next to me distraught over having to attack Ava with harmless balls of energy to inspire her to fly quickly and more effectively. And now Ava is moaning about her day learning. She is fine, barely even bruised. She is merely frustrated that this isn't coming to her easily.

Reminding her that she was being foolish in complaining and that she had not suffered any lasting damage accept to her pride resulted in a petulant glare in my direction.

“And I suppose that you've never had to deal with learning something frustrating?”

“Everyone learns things, girl. And everyone has something that they have a difficult time with. Of my siblings, I was the last to learn how to effectively hunt. I had no concept of stealth, and every attempt at hunting even a rat proved to be a failure.

“My siblings made certain that I knew exactly how much better at hunting they were than I was. Not a day went by that they didn't flaunt their skills and lord their hunting successes over me. It was frustrating, it was painful, but I had no choice but to keep trying.

“Nothing in life ever comes easily, girl. I suggest you learn this now. You are aware that it is important for you to learn to use your wings. Perhaps instead of crying about the difficulty, you should learn what you did wrong.”

This girl was certainly interesting. The entire time she was complaining about the difficulty she had in the school, her mind was very obviously elsewhere.

“Instead of moaning about a difficult lesson, perhaps you should consider talking about what's actually disturbing you. It's obvious that your mind is preoccupied with something other than a few bruises.”

For a moment, it appeared that Ava would be sensible and speak her mind. But after only a moment's hesitation, she shook her head.

“No. It's not something that talking about will help. I just have some stuff to think about. But you're right. I'm not that bothered by the obstacle course. I knew when I asked to be taught that it wouldn't be easy. And I guess you're right in saying that there's no point in complaining about what I already knew.”

“If you know that it is a pointless act, then stop. You two are worse than my children were.”

“I'm honored for the comparison, Maka. Even if Ava and myself are being compared negatively to your children, it is great praise. It's obvious how much you care for them. And there are few parents who would compare strangers to their own children.”

“I think what Kel is trying to say, Maka, is that it's obvious that you were a fantastic mother to your children. He's honored that you thought to compare us to them in any way. It meant that we can't have been doing too badly.”

“I'm saying that you two children are being foolish. Now get going. That female flier has been trying to get our attention for the past few minutes now.”

Smiling in amusement, I shook my head as those two children immediately jumped up and scurried towards the female, Aderyn, following at a slightly slower pace.

These two really were like my children had been. After they had been turned into Terrors by the Corrupter, I had only thought of my own personal revenge. Deciding to travel with these two had been a matter of necessity. They had a path that would eventually get them to the monster that destroyed my children. Accompanying them meant that I would reach this monster sooner than if I had decided to travel alone.

But traveling with them for these past few days had already changed that. They knew that they were headed into danger. From the fear that I constantly scented from them, they were very aware of the danger, yet they were facing it.

I wasn't certain when the change had come about, but at some point I had made up my mind that I would do whatever was in my power to keep these two children safe. I would avenge my children, but these two new children that had suddenly come under my care were equally important.

I had boldly stated that I would strike them down if they interfered with my revenge. Had proven my superior strength more than once. But I didn't believe that I would be able to do them harm if I needed to to get my revenge.

“The three of you have been given this room to use for your stay here. It's the only place that's accessible by walking, so you cannot request another place to stay.” Aderyn looked at the three of us with something like contempt before leaving, right in the middle of the boy's long-winded speech thanking them for their hospitality.

She had barely left when Cadell appeared.

“I apologize for Aderyn. She has a hatred for non-fliers, and for good reason. Her uncle had his wings ripped out of his back because some non-fliers decided that he didn't deserve to live. He died of the blood loss. It was the kindest fate for him.

“But that wasn't why I came here. Ava, I suggest you get some sleep. You have an early day tomorrow.” Message delivered, Cadell left just as abruptly as Aderyn had.

“Well, it looks like there's just enough room for the three of us to sleep. I'll try to keep my wings tucked in so that they don't take up much space.” Ava and Kele quietly talked for a few hours, trying to plan the fastest route to their destination once we were able to leave.

“Girl, weren't you told that you needed to rest?”

“Right. I guess that we have time to plan. At the rate that I'm learning to fly, we'll be here for the next year.”

I wasn't sure what woke me up. But when I did wake, I was immediately hint by the salty scent of tears. Looking around, Ava was sitting at the doorway to our loaned room, knees pulled to her chest.

“What's the problem, girl?”

“Maka. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to disturb you.”

“Never mind that. What's the problem?”

“I'm just a little confused. Cadell talked to me for a little while and got me to realize that I'm terrified of losing what little of myself I have left. I was certain that if I trusted these growths on my back, that's what would happen. But I did trust these things and nothing happened. So does that mean I've already lost what little of my past I had left?”

“It means that you're an idiot for thinking that, girl. You can only lose yourself if you allow it to happen. When your wings grew, did you suddenly forget your parents? Your friends? Did you suddenly become a new person in any way other than the fact that now you're able to fly?”

“Well... no. I guess not. I still like what I used to like, and dislike what I used to.”

“What you're afraid of is that you won't want your wings to be removed if you embrace them. You miss your home, I understand that. You can likely never return to it, so you're trying to cling to memories that you never lost. You're afraid that you'll want to stay here instead of returning to your home if you have the option.

“Even if you remain here, you'll still have everything that made you the person you are. The experiences that you had in your home will still have happened. You haven't lost anything. You have, in fact, gained quite a bit. I'm not referring to your new ability to fly. I'm referring to the fact that you gained a wealth of knowledge. Things that you thought were myths have turned out to be part of your history. You now know the truth about several things. How is that a loss?”

“I guess you're right. But this is still a life that is foreign to me. Fully embracing it is a terrifying thought.”

“Of course it is, girl. Change is always terrifying. But you will never learn or grow if you don't open yourself up to it. You've been exposed to a large change, girl. And it's not going away. I suggest you learn to accept it.”

Having said what I needed to say, I left Ava with her thoughts. She was old enough to make her own conclusions without my help.

By the time I woke up the next morning, both Kele and Ava had left, likely back to this 'school' that the fliers were using.

Finding a rabbit to hunt for breakfast, I asked one of the people from the day before, Glyn, where they were.

“I was actually headed to the school myself. Watching a young flier learn to use her wings is always an exciting thing to watch. Follow me, I'll take you to the path that Madoc took the sorcerer on.”

It wasn't a lengthy climb, taking only a few minutes to completely walk. The room that I saw had a very large area for spectators to observe from. And observe they were. There were over twenty fliers standing around watching Ava run the course repeatedly, with Cadell and Dai instructing her to continuously repeat the course.

Finding a place to observe from, I silently watched, wondering how much Ava had learned in only a day.

She was doing well, only crashing a few times. Kele was very obviously holding back in his attacks, with all of them coming from an angle that Ava could see them, and at a speed that was easily dodged.

Ava was about to run the course yet again when she paused, head turned towards the door.

“Did anyone else hear that?”

I was impressed with her hearing. I was only just able to pick up the sounds myself, though I was significantly further from the door than Ava was. Shifting into a lynx, I strained my ears for any noise.

There it was again. Growls and roars. And heading this way.

Running, I found platforms that I could easily leap to and used them to make it across the room quickly, landing next to Ava with a quiet growl. Across the room, Kele was also making his way over as quickly as possible.

Shadow Terrors! A dozen of them that I could see, and possibly more coming.

“Is there a quick way to the ground?”

“Yes there is, sorcerer. Follow me.” Cadell leaped off of the ledge, Ava following closely behind before breaking off to retrieve her weapon. Cadell hugged a path that led directly to the ground so that Kele and I could see where to go, breaking off when we had reached it.

Running quickly, Kele and I reached where Ava was standing, wings ready to take her back into the air and bow out.

“They're likely after us. Ava, Maka, we know that we can kill them without having to hit their eyes. We need to show no mercy and kill them before they can kill us.”

This boy had a penchant for stating the obvious, it would seem. Had their been time, I would have shifted back to tell him not to waste his breath on things we already knew.

But almost immediately after he had said this, the Terrors had landed.

Immediately, Kele, Ava and I attacked them. Kele using bolts of magic, and Ava firing arrow after arrow.

Singling out a Terror that was near the back, I rushed for it, thinking of nothing but how I could attack. The throat was the easiest way to kill a creature, but if the last fight with a Terror was any indication, they were smart enough to keep their throats too low to strike. I would have to attack from the base of the neck again.

The Terror was within striking range. I tensed my muscles to prepare for the leap.

That scent! It couldn't be! Stopping in my tracks, I shifted back, horrified at what my sense of smell was telling me to be true.

“Honovi!” It couldn't be. Not my youngest child! “Honovi, stop!” I knew that it was futile. That my daughter was gone. But I could not bring myself to kill my own child.

I tried to flee. There were other Terrors that I could kill without hesitation. I was halfway shifted back into my lynx form when Hono – no – when this thing that used to be my daughter grabbed me with its claws, pulling me to the ground violently.

I couldn't help but wonder if this skill that was being used to kill me was due in part to my lessons in hunting. If I had had even a second more time, I would have gone for this thing's eyes. But I had barely had time to face it before I felt fangs biting deeply into my throat.

As I died, I heard Kele and Ava's screams of horror.
AQ DF MQ  Post #: 10
1/10/2014 15:30:09   
Wolf Rider

“MAKA!” I couldn't believe it. This couldn't be happening. But the evidence was there in front of my eyes. Maka was dead.

First there was shock. Then horror. Then rage. Pure, blinding rage.

I grabbed my magic as strongly as I could, shooting it out towards the monster that had killed Maka with a cry of rage.

It proved unable to withstand the onslaught. It roared in pain, even tried to run towards me, but it died before it could even move away from Maka's corpse.

The rage was still present. One Terror's death wouldn't calm it. Setting my sights on another Terror, I attacked that one as well. And still another. Vaguely, I was aware of Ava's arrows flying past me. I didn't care.

All I cared about was that every last Terror was dead.

I had never attacked in rage before. My teachers had always cautioned against it. They said it made our magic stronger, but also harder to control. It turned out, that they were correct. What should have been concenterated attacks were instead large attacks that took out the surrounding area as well as the Terrors I was aiming for.

This rage also meant that my ability to weave my magic was lessened. There were still four Terrors left when my magic fizzled, my ability to weave it lost.

Four arrows shot past me one after another, each flawlessly sinking into the eyes of four Terrors.

I was barely aware that they had died. All I could see was Maka.

Running over to her, I futilely checked for any signs of life. There were none. Maka had died.

“Kel. Look.” Numbly, I turned to look at Ava, who was standing next to a Terror. The Terror that had killed Maka. It was shrinking. Changing shape. This had never happened before. Slowly it shrunk down, until a young girl, perhaps in her teens, was laying there.

“Gods above.” The resemblance was impossible to mistake. This girl, that had previously been a Shadow Terror that had killed Maka, looked exactly like Maka did.

“Oh my...” Ava couldn't finish her sentence, she didn't need to.

“Didn't Maka say her daughter's name was Honovi?”

I nodded numbly.

“Why did only she change back?”

“Perhaps killing her mother was enough of a shock to break lose from the spell that had changed her, only it took too long for it to take effect. I don't know. Magic of this type should never be used. And the effects of it are unpredictable. It could be any number of things that caused her to change back.”

“I am sorry that your friend died.” When had Cadell gotten here? And where had he been while we were fighting?

It appeared that Ava had the same thought, demanding to know just that.

“I apologize. But we had to ensure that our children were safe. I was scouting for other Terrors, only coming back in time to see your shifter friend fall.”

It made sense. But part of me couldn't help but think that if others had been there to help, Maka would still be alive.

“Is that supposed to make things better? I get that you did what you had to do, or at least what you felt you had to do, but that doesn't change that a great person is dead. And all you can say is 'I'm sorry'? 'Sorry' doesn't bring Maka back. 'Sorry' doesn't change the fact that there were three of us against over a dozen Shadow Terrors and you left us to face them alone! What good is your being 'sorry' when nothing changes?”

“You're correct, Ava. The fact that I am very sorry for your friend's death doesn't change anything. It doesn't bring her back, and it doesn't make your pain lessen in any way. But it also doesn't change the fact that I am truly sorry that this happened. If I could have done something to save Maka, I would have. But I couldn't. Unlike you, I do not possess skill with a bow. And unlike Kele, I do not have any magical capabilities.

“I understand that you're upset. That you've lost someone that might not have died if things had been different. But before you blame the fliers underneath me, perhaps the two of you should be looking at yourselves. Where were you when Maka was being killed? Where were your skills? You both witnessed Maka fall. There was time to perhaps save her. You don't want to blame yourselves. I understand that. But that doesn't give you the right to blame me.”

Cadell's words were like a slap from an elder. And judging from Ava's expression, they hit her just as hard. For a very long moment, no one moved. I was kneeling next to Maka, wishing futilely that the magic to bring back the dead was not forbidden. Ava was trembling, both with rage and grief. And Cadell was quietly standing there.

The moment was broken with a loud snap from Ava's wings as she shot them out. The next moment she had shot herself into the air, taking off towards what looked like the school.

I had thought that Cadell would follow her. Instead he summoned a dozen fliers to help get rid of the Shadow Terror carcasses.

“Who is the other girl?”

“Maka's children were all transformed into Terrors. The girl is Honovi, Maka's daughter. I'm not sure how or why, but she transformed back into a human after she died.”

Cadell's look of shock and horror echoed what I was feeling. Or at least what I had felt when I saw Maka fall and when Honovi, the Terror that I knew for a fact had killed her, changed back into herself. Now I felt only numbness.

“The bodies of Maka and Honovi can be taken to their home if you will show us the way, Kele. The few shifters I have met have all been extremely proud of their homes. I believe that it is fitting for them to be returned there.”

I barely heard what Cadell was saying. It was similar to one time when I was desperately trying to control my magic to prevent a backlash. Because of my magic's effects on me, everything that my teacher was saying to me seemed to be coming from a long distance away. My magic had literally enveloped me, causing an effect similar to the one time I have ever gone swimming and people were talking while I was underwater.

When I finally realized that Cadell had said something, it took a very long moment for me to realize exactly what had been said.

“I appreciate the consideration that you're showing Maka and Honovi. But I don't think that we should leave without Ava.” I turned to leave to get her when I stopped, and reached out to my magic, barely aware that for the first time in my life, the feeling of my magic building up brought me no joy or excitement. It was as if I was simply watching someone else weave the magic, instead of actually weaving the magic myself as the instrument it chose.

Releasing my magic, I let it wrap around Maka and Honovi's bodies, temporarily trapping them in a state where they would not be able to decompose that would last for a week. That done, I turned towards the school to tell Ava what was happening.

Walking slowly up the path back to the school, I tried not to think about the fact that Maka had died. I focused only on the fact that I needed to get to Ava so that we could bury Maka and her daughter and perhaps their spirits would be at peace.

When I reached the school, I immediately saw Ava running the course. She was pushing herself as hard as she could, not caring about the obstacles, not even seeming to notice that she was, despite the spells placed on the course, hurting herself with the collisions. She wasn't even landing on the ledge when she completed a run, simply turning around and repeating the course. Always faster. Always pushing herself harder. She wasn't even aware that I was there, or of the fact that with every run, her wings started trembling more and more. She was having to work that much harder to complete the course.

Not wanting Ava to hurt herself with her careless flying, or worse, fall to the bottom of the room, I reached out with my magic and grabbed her, bringing her gently to the ledge.

“You have no right to do this, Kel! Let me go right now!”

“I'll let you go, Ava. But not until you promise not to run the course again. You're hurting yourself this way.”

“You're the one who said that I needed to learn to fly. So let me fly!”

“You're exhausted, and you're hurting yourself. Take a few minutes to rest, at least. Cadell wants to bring Maka and Honovi back to their home. I thought you might want to come with us. I'm not sure what it's like in your home, but you must have kept some of our traditions of respecting and honoring the dead.”

Ava paused, looking like she wanted to jump off the edge and continue to force herself to fly until she dropped from pure exhaustion.

“You're right. We did keep the tradition of honoring the dead. I'll go with you. And when I come back, I'm going to come back here and make up for lost time.”

“Why the sudden enthusiasm to learn to fly?”

“I... there's no reason. I'm just eager to get going. We have a destination in mind. We can't afford for me to take months and months to learn to use these things.”

Satisfied that she wasn't going to go back to the course, I released her from my magic. She left the room and glided down to where the other fliers were putting Maka and Honovi's bodies onto large pieces of cloth to carry them.

The walk to where Ava and I first met Maka took three days.

“This was where we met her. It's where her home was. It seems like the best place to bury her.”

“None of us have the tools for digging a grave, Kel. How are we supposed to bury them?”

“Like this, Ava.” Holding out my hand, I wove my magic into the spell I needed, releasing it outwards once it had built up. Yet again, I felt no joy in weaving my magic, though yet again, I was barely aware of this.

Once the spell was woven and released, two graves were formed. Gently, and with all the respect that they deserved, Maka and Honovi were lowered into the graves, the fliers clearing away so that I could cover them once the bodies were laid to rest.

Ava and I stayed there for an hour, saying our goodbyes and strangely unwilling to leave. Perhaps we felt that if we left the graves, that would make their deaths real.

Part of me was grateful that Cadell and the other fliers were waiting just inside of our eyesight, letting us take our time saying goodbye to Maka. But largely I didn't feel anything at all, only numbness.

After an hour had passed, Ava and I tore ourselves away from the graves.

“Will you return to our home, or continue on your journey?”

“Ava still needs to learn how to fully use her wings, Cadell. She indicated that she was planning on immediately returning to the school when we got back.” Cadell nodded his acceptance and started to join the rest of the fliers, Ava included, in the air when I held up a hand to stop him.

“When I saw Ava in the school, she was pushing herself to the point of actually causing injuries. Please don't let her in the school unmonitored, and please don't let her push herself that hard again.”

“I hadn't planned to, Kele. She is not the first flier to react to someone's death in this way, though I thank you for telling me of this. I'll inform people that she is to not be allowed inside the school by herself.”

“Thank you.”

Satisfied that he had sufficiently eased my concerns for Ava, Cadell joined the others in the air.

They flew slowly for my benefit. They could have made the flight much more quickly if they weren't making themselves remain near enough for me to easily follow them. Though part of me wondered if their speed wasn't for Ava's sake more than it was for mine.

I was certain that if they weren't in a formation around Ava, she would have pushed herself to fly as quickly as she could. There were many times that she nearly bumped into the person in front of her trying to break away from them.

When they landed, Dai lectured her on this.

“Part of being a flier when you're with a group is staying within them. Trying to break ahead like you have been is very rude. You said you wanted to learn, this is part of your lessons.”

“After I leave, I won't be with other fliers. I don't see why I need to learn this.”

“You need to, because Cadell has decided you do. While you are learning under us, you are under Cadell's leadership, just as we are. Now accept this. You can learn other aspects of flying when we return to the school.”

Since I had spent so much time with Ava, I was able to read her even without looking at her wings. She wanted to respond to Dai, but thought better of it, looking away in submission.

“Cadell was already aware that Ava would need to be kept in check for her flying, boy.” I jumped at Aderyn's voice, not having seen her coming. “We were all instructed to not let her fly away from the group or be in the school unmonitored before we set off to lay your friend to rest. Your concerns were unfounded.”

“I was not aware of that, but I'm grateful that Cadell had anticipated Ava's reactions and took precautions against it. But if that's the case, then why was Ava by herself when I saw her in the school?”

“The majority of us were either with the rest of our people or placing your friends on the cloths. There were not enough of us to keep an eye on her. It was an incident that will not be repeated.” Message given, she turned to head back to the other fliers.

“Aderyn.” She turned back towards me, looking irritated at the interruption. “Cadell told us about your uncle. I just wanted to say that I'm sorry. Had I been there when it happened, I would have tried to stop it.”

“Your apology is unnecessary.” For a moment, I thought Aderyn was going to leave, angry with me for bringing up her past. Then she smiled slightly in gratitude. “But I appreciate it.”

Remembering that I hadn't reported yet, I reached into my Pocket and brought out the contact stone.

“Kele, why haven't you checked in with us?”

“I apologize, Elder. It was remiss of me.”


“Ava is learning how to fully use her wings. There is a group of fliers that have agreed to teach her. I expect that she will be at least a month learning.” I briefly recounted everything that had happened, with the exception of Maka's death.

“That is all that you have to report?” The tone of the elder's voice made me wonder if he knew that I was leaving something out.

“Yes, Elder. That is all.”

“You're lying. Tell me, Kele, what is it that is causing you such anguish and grief?”

I tightly closed my eyes, swallowing hard in an attempt to rid myself of the lump in my throat. I had hoped that I would not have to mention this.

“Kele. Answer the question.” The elder's voice was firm, but not unkind. I was convinced that he knew, or at least suspected, but wanted me to say it for myself.

“There was an attack by Shadow Terrors. Maka died at the fangs of one of them.” Despite my best efforts, my voice cracked with pain.

“I am sorry to hear that, Kele. Inside the complex, you are not taught how to deal with grief, which is perhaps a failing of ours. Allow yourself to mourn, but do not let this overwhelm you. Your magic will react to your emotions. If they are too strong, it could result in a backlash that would not only kill you, but people around you. You must not let that happen.”

“Yes, Elder. I will report next when Ava and I are ready to leave the mountains.”

“Very well. May the Five guide you.”

“And you as well.”

“Kel, are you ready yet? We've been waiting on you.” Ava was agitated, wings twitching in eagerness. I suspected that if she thought Cadell or one of the others wouldn't stop her before she could get very far, she would have already left.

“My apologies, Ava, Winged Ones. I'm ready.” The elder was correct. I needed to get my emotions under control. So did Ava. I just wasn't sure either of us could.
AQ DF MQ  Post #: 11
1/10/2014 15:31:13   
Wolf Rider

I don't know why Kel had to choose now to contact his elders. Doesn't he get that I need to be good at flying? That I don't have a choice anymore? I had thought of leaving before I was at the peak of my skill before. But now I couldn't.

Even my teachers don't seem to get it. I need to fly. I needed to get to the course and run it over and over again. Always faster, always working harder. If I got hurt, it didn't matter. So long as I didn't ever stop moving. Never stop moving.

The three days it took to get back to the school were the most agonizing three days of my life. The entire time, I was forced to stay in the middle of a group of fliers and I could not deviate so much as a micrometer away from my assigned spot. Which wasn't good when I needed to fly fast, not at this slow, deliberate pace.

When we finally got there, I immediately headed towards the school, only to be stopped by Dai, who deliberately inserted himself in front of me.

“We flew a long way and didn't bring much in the way of food. Take some time to eat, let your food digest, and then you can run the course.”

“I'm not really all that hungry right now, and I feel like I lost whatever I might have learned with the break from the school. I think it would be better if I just ran the course a few times, just so I can relax about that.”

“As thrilled as I am that you're so excited to learn to use your wings in the course, I really think that you should have a meal first. You'll fly better on a full stomach, and Cadell won't show you mercy just because you didn't eat when you had the chance.”

“I don't have a choice, do I?”

“I'm afraid not.” The entire time we had been talking, Dai had been steering me towards the food hall. Since I didn't have a choice, I conceded, and ate my meal without protest.

Finally after waiting for an hour, Dai and Cadell told me to follow them to the school. When we reached it, Cadell didn't even have to tell me to run the course. Finally I could do what I needed to do, push myself to fly as fast as I could, and then push myself more.

Before I was even through the first ring, Cadell was in front of me.

“We're doing something different this time. Dai is going to run the course, and then you're going to mimic how he flew. You did well the last time I saw you fly in here, but you still weren't flying as well as you could have been. Dai is going to show you how it should be flown.”

“I really don't think that-” The look on Cadell's face stopped any argument I might have had, reminding me that I had agreed to follow instructions. “All right.”

Once I landed on the ledge, Dai slowly ran the course that had been giving me so much difficulty. Cadell was right. I wasn't flying as well as I could have been. Dai was flawless in his run, not getting too close to any of the obstacles, but also not approaching them from too far away to make sure he didn't hit them. Every move was precise. It was amazing to watch.

When Dai landed on the ledge, Cadell told me to mimic how he flew.

“Why not just make me trust my wings again even though you said you wouldn't? It seemed to work last time.”

“You trusting your wings was unexpected, Ava. I was glad to see it, but it wasn't what I had thought would happen. I had merely believed that focusing on something other than the course would help you since Kele implied that you were going into situations where you would be attacked. Now run the course.”

Leaping off the edge I tried to run it as fast as I could. But again, before I could get very far, Cadell was in my way.

“I said that you were to mimic Dai, Ava. That includes flying at the same speed that he did. Today the challenge is not to fly quickly, but to fly accurately.”



“Cadell, I really don't think you understand. Flying slowly isn't an option for me right now. I have to move quickly.” I was trying to keep from sounding upset, but knowing that I was failing miserably.

“I understand, Ava. But that doesn't change my decision. Mimic how Dai flew earlier.”

Why didn't Cadell understand? He said he did, but if that were true, he wouldn't be putting this restriction on me. As sympathetic as he sounded, it didn't change the fact that I needed to fly quickly, and he was forcing me to fly slowly.

Frustrated, but not having a choice in the matter, I flew slowly as instructed, resolving to come back later and fly the way I needed to.

“If your instructions on how I'm flying today are because you feel sorry for me, Cadell, that's not necessary. I think the lessons were more effective when you were forcing me to fly faster and faster and still fly accurately.”

“Ava. Some fliers can learn to fly accurately at speed from making continuous mistakes and learning from them. Others cannot, needing accuracy before they can develop speed. I need to learn which type of flier you are so that I can teach you accordingly. Now keep flying.”

I didn't have a choice. I knew that. But I still needed to fly quickly. Why didn't anyone seem to understand this?

Several hours later, Cadell said that my lessons were done for the day, and that it was time to break for dinner.

“You two go ahead. I'll catch up in a minute. I want to try the slalom a few more times. I think I've almost figured it out.”

“You go ahead, Cadell. I'll wait until Ava's ready.” Cadell nodded at Dai and left.

“You don't need to wait, Dai. I might be longer than I'm hoping, and I don't want you to go hungry because of me.” I made sure to keep a friendly smile on my face, but what I wanted to do was scream. It was like all the fliers were conspiring against me flying the way I needed to.

“Sorry, Ava. Students aren't allowed to be in the school unmonitored. We don't want them learning bad habits that we have to teach out of them.” What Dai was saying made sense, but something about how he was saying it made me think that he was lying.

No. It wasn't how he was saying it, it was how he was holding himself. He was looking slightly away from me, refusing to make direct eye contact. And his wings were slightly flared in agitation.

“All students, or just me?” Every time I had tried to lie to my mother, she would stare me down unflinchingly, refusing to give in until I'd told the truth. That was the same look I turned onto Dai.

“No student is allowed into the school unmonitored, Ava.” Dai refused to give into admitting that he wasn't telling me the entire truth. Then he sighed in resignation. “But Cadell has instructed that you specifically aren't allowed to fly unmonitored.”

“What? Why not? He said that I was flying really well.” This was absurd. How dare Cadell do this?

“You'll have to ask him for his reasoning behind the instruction, though I doubt he'll tell you. Now either run the slalom like you said you were going to, or get going.”

Angrily, I left the school, since I didn't care about the slalom, simply using it as an excuse to be able to fly the way I needed to.

When I saw Cadell by himself, I took advantage of the opportunity.

“Why am I forbidden to fly unmonitored? I didn't have that restriction before. So why now?” The second I started talking, I realized that I should have waited to allow myself to calm down instead of addressing him in the tone that I had, one that would have gotten me slapped soundly if I dared use that tone on my parents. From the glare Cadell shot at me, it looked like he was tempted to do just that.

“My reasons are my own, and they are not your concern. The decision is final, and nothing that you say or do will change it.” His tone was one that I didn't dare argue with, letting me know in no uncertain terms that it wasn't an argument that I would win.

“Please, Cadell. You said earlier that you understood that I need to fly quickly, so why won't you let me?”

Cadell sighed and indicated that I should grab some food and follow him.

Unsurprisingly, he led me to the same outcropping as before, sitting down and eating in silence. I wasn't particularly hungry, but since I didn't think Cadell was going to talk until after we'd eaten, I ate the food I had grabbed earlier.

“All right, Ava. Why are you suddenly interested in learning to fly? Before you were willing to learn, but you weren't so insistent on flying as quickly as you could.”

“Because I have to.”


“Because – there's no reason. I just have to.”

“Tell me why.” I wasn't sure why Cadell was so insistent that I tell him. I didn't want to actually say it. I couldn't.

“Why, Ava?”

“Because it's my fault! The only reason we're here is because I'm not a good flier. If I was as good as you or Dai, or Aderyn, then we wouldn't have had to be here, and Maka would still be alive!”

“Ava. I understand that you're upset. You're not the first flier to react to death like this. Blaming yourself. Pushing yourself as hard as you can, even to the point of hurting yourself. But Maka's death is not your fault.”

“You yourself said that it was. You said that if I had fired my bow, then Maka might not have died.”

“I'm sorry I said that, Ava. It was uncalled for, and was wrong of me. But you have to understand that none of what happened was your fault. The Shadow Terrors could have attacked you at any place, and all of you had plenty of time to ready yourselves to fight them. Maka knew that the Terror was her daughter. I saw her shift back into a human from her lynx form. She would not have done that if she hadn't known who she was fighting. What happened is terrible. But it's not your fault.”

I didn't want to talk about this, so I changed the topic completely. I appreciated that Cadell was being kind in telling me that Maka's death wasn't my fault, but I knew that it was, and so did he.

“Is my reaction to Maka's death why I've been forbidden to fly unmonitored?”

“Yes. When you took off towards the school, I knew exactly what you were doing. You were hoping that if you could fly fast enough, then you could outfly the pain of losing someone. I knew that you would fly until you couldn't keep yourself aloft, and also that you would almost definitely hurt yourself in the process. That was something that I could not allow. The limitation is for your benefit, not to hurt you.”

I had no reason to disbelieve what Cadell was saying, but it didn't help to calm me down.

“Cadell, you don't seem to get it. It feels like I can't stay still. If I do, then my body will tear itself apart. The only time that the feeling eases is when I'm flying as fast as I can, pushing myself as hard as possible, and then pushing harder. If I don't fly quickly, then I feel like I'll lose my mind.”

“Which is why it's even more important not to push yourself. When Aderyn's uncle died, she reacted the same way that you are to Maka's death. It got to the point where we had to keep a constant eye on her for her own safety.”

“So you're going to make me fly slowly for a while, then.”

“It's possible. If you promise to listen when you're told to stop, I will consider letting you fly quickly through the course, since you will still need to test yourself. But if Dai or I see you pushing yourself, then you won't be allowed into the school at all.”

I hesitated for a few moments. It wasn't what I knew I needed. But it was the closest thing that I was going to get to that.

“All right. I promise.”

“Very well. Now we need to get back before it gets too dark to see. And Ava, it truly isn't your fault that Maka's dead. Just as it isn't Kele's.”

“Thanks for saying that, Cadell. I feel a little better now.” Forcing myself to smile gratefully, I followed him off the outcropping to get back to his home, breaking off to get to my room.

“Have a productive day?”

“I guess. Cadell decided to focus on flying accurately instead of flying quickly, so I didn't run into the course this time. I guess that counts as an achievement. Now since we both know you're not that interested in my flying lessons or you would have watched, what do you want, Kel?”

“Ava, I know that you're having a hard time coping with Maka's death. I am, too. If you need to take time to mourn, just tell Cadell. I doubt he would force you to fly if you needed a day to rest.”

“Why does everyone want to talk about Maka? And why does everyone think that I'm having a hard time with it? I'm just fine, okay?”

Kele looked like he was going to say something, but then changed his mind.

“All right, Ava. If you're sure. But if you want to talk, I don't mind listening.”

“I appreciate it, Kel, but I really don't want to. I really just want to sleep. Can I have my bag so that I can change into some sleeping clothes?” To prove my point, I went to where I made a bed a few nights ago and after changing clothes since Kel obligingly gave me my bag settled down to sleep, determinedly slowing my breathing to a normal level.

After the most difficult and boring hour of my life, Kel also settled down to sleep, mercifully falling asleep quickly.

I waited a few minutes after I was sure he was asleep before carefully getting up. With the moon being as bright as it was, I would have no problem seeing where I was going.

Reaching into my bag, I dug through it until I found my one dark shirt, though even that was only a light gray. Changing into it, I quietly walked to the doorway and leaped off, extending my wings as I fell.

I was grateful that my wings were so dark. After I had gained enough altitude, they would blend in with the night easily, though the moon would give me away if I wasn't careful.

Gliding silently, I made my way towards the school, intending to run the course as many times as I could before I was caught.

“Enjoying a late night flight, Ava?” I whirled around at the sudden voice, seeing Glyn behind me looking very amused.

“Yes, actually, I was. And then you interrupted me.”

“My apologies.” Glyn didn't look the least bit apologetic, instead looking like he was trying to keep from laughing.

“Look, Glyn, as nice as it's been to chat, I'd really like to get back to my flight. And I'm not really in the mood for company, so do you mind?”

“Of course not. I'm sorry to disturb you. I just thought you would like to know that the entrance to the school is closed off until tomorrow.”

“Well, as grateful as I am that you went out of your way to tell me, I was just flying for the sake of flying, and would really like to get back to it.” I made sure to keep my expression and voice pleasant, but inside I was seething. How did Cadell know what I was going to do?

“All right. Though perhaps you should return to your room. An untrained flier isn't prepared for the dangers that the night can provide, and we are in the mountains. I would hate for you to get injured.”

“I'll be fine.”

“Of course you will, Ava. Because you're going to do as Glyn suggested and return to your room. Right now.”

For the second time that night, I whirled around in surprise.

“Dai. What are you-”

“You're not supposed to be flying at night.”

“Funny, I was only told that I can't fly unmonitored, and obviously both you and Glyn both knew that I was flying, so I wasn't disobeying any rules.”

“But you were trying to, and we both know it. Now I'm going to take you back to your room, and you're going to stay there until morning.”

For a moment, I glared at him, but I was beat and we both knew it. Both Glyn and Dai were more experienced fliers than I was. I would never be able to outpace them, even if it was daytime and I could see clearly.

Though there was one way that I might be able to outpace them. If I could do something surprising, I might be able to get away. I didn't know where I would go that would provide any sort of practice like the obstacle course, but maybe just flying as fast as I could would work just as well. But if I tried any stunts, they might refuse to teach me. It was a risk I would have to take, if I didn't get some of this... whatever it was I feeling out, I would lose my mind.

“All right, Dai. You win.”

“Then let's go.” Dai indicated that I was to go first, which was annoying, but not impossible to work with. Turning slowly, I set off an easy pace to the room that I was given, Dai following close behind, but not too closely. Which was just what I needed.

When the hollow that was the doorway was in sight, I flapped my wings as hard as I could, shooting upwards, arcing myself slightly to go behind and above Dai, turning myself as I did so. Once I was fully turned, which took slightly longer than I had anticipated – long enough for Dai to turn himself as well – I took off as quickly as I could.

For a moment, I forgot that I was trying to outfly Dai, I was so relieved to finally be flying as quickly as I needed to. To finally be able to ease whatever this emotion was would make when I eventually got caught worth it. That thought reminded me what I was trying to do.

Not wanting to be too easy to chase, I chose a zigzagging pattern to fly in, pushing myself as hard as I could.

Then another flier, I couldn't see more than the wings so I didn't know who it was, came towards me, causing me to change my direction. With this new flier and Dai working together, I didn't have a chance. I was going to get caught. The smart thing to do would have been to simply stop and allow them to catch me.

Instead, much like the first time I saw a Shadow Terror, I let myself drop, hoping that the move would catch them off-guard and give me time to escape. Just a few minutes longer. That was all I needed to be able to relax. I only needed to stall for that long.

Instead yet another flier appeared from underneath me, forcing me to painfully wrench open my wings to avoid a collision. It was Aderyn. She and the other two fliers, Dai and Cadell worked together to herd me towards the ground, their stances making it clear that if I tried to go so much as an inch above the ground they would stop me.

“Explain yourself. Now.” Cadell was furious. His demand to explain myself told me very clearly that I had better do so immediately or I would get myself into even more trouble.

“I... I just needed to fly. For the first time since Maka died, I was able to think clearly. I was even calm for once while I was pushing myself to fly that hard and fast.” Part of me felt bad for what I had done. It wasn't the smartest choice, and I knew it. I could have gotten hurt, or worse, caused injury to one of the people who were forced to chase me down. But a larger part of me believed that if they had just let me fly the way I needed to, then this could have been avoided.

“Dai. Aderyn. Leave.” Immediately, Dai and Aderyn launched themselves into the air, returning to what looked to be the the mountain.

“Ava. If I have to place guards on you at all times to keep you alive and unharmed, I will. If you test me again, I will refuse to teach you, and force you and Kele to leave. Is that understood?”

“Yes. I'm sorry, Cadell. It won't happen again.”

“No. It won't.” After a long moment, Cadell's glare faded. He still looked irritated, but the rage from earlier had faded. “It won't happen again because I will allow you to fly the way you seem to believe you need to. Not in the school, however. There are too many obstacles and keeping you from flying quickly was for your sake. With the way you were flying, you would certainly run into them and hurt yourself.”

“You didn't seem to mind me running into them before.”

“Before, running into the obstacles was a learning experience. You weren't flying at a speed that you could possibly hurt yourself. You will still not fly unaccompanied, but you will be allowed to push yourself as hard as you please, with the expectation that when you are told to slow down, you will do so. This is your last chance, Ava. I've been more lenient with you than I would be with anyone else as you're a guest. Do not test my patience.”

“I understand. Thank you.”

Not wanting to push my luck any further since Cadell was being incredibly generous as it was, I didn't argue when he indicated that I should follow him back to the mountains, though I was irritated when he followed me the entire way back to the loaned room.

“I said that I got it. I won't keep pushing. You didn't have to make sure I would go back to my room.”

“Given your recent behavior, Ava, I think I did.”

“Would it help if I apologized?” Instead of answering, Cadell simply left. “I'll take that as a 'no'.”

“I thought you were asleep.”

“What is it with people sneaking up behind me and startling me tonight? And I could say the same thing about you, Kel.”

“I was. I woke to hear Cadell lecturing you, though I'm not sure what it was about beyond the fact that you apparently lied about being tired earlier. I'm not sure why you wanted me to be asleep before going on a flight, but the deception wasn't necessary.”

“It doesn't matter, Kel. It won't happen again.”

I knew that Kel didn't deserve the way I was treating him, but I couldn't stop myself from being cold towards him. I could tell that he wanted to talk. I didn't. I couldn't. He'd probably want to talk about Maka, and I wanted nothing to do with that discussion. It was bad enough that Cadell had managed to get me to admit the one thing I didn't want to admit to anyone – that Maka's death was my fault, no matter what he said – I wasn't going to admit that to Kel. He and Maka were the closest things I had to friends in this miserable world. I had already lost Maka. If Kel knew that it was my fault she had died, I would lose him, too.

“If you're sure that it's not important...”

“I'm sure.” I knew that Kel had more that he had wanted to say, but I wasn't in the mood to listen. I was too afraid to listen. For the second time that night, I settled down in my bedding, though this time I wasn't lying about wanting to sleep.

“All right, Ava. But if you want to talk, just let me know.”
AQ DF MQ  Post #: 12
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