I lay in my bed, shivering under the covers. I couldn't make a noise, couldn't stop the darkness when it came to smother me. I lay gasping over and over trying to get enough air in my lungs to release a scream. There was nothing to see, nothing to hear, but I could feel. The fear, sharp and acrid, was punctuated by a flash of blinding pain. I managed to sit up and scream when then, trembling violently as I huddled against the wall in the darkness.
My father rushed into my room and flicked on the light beside my bed. "Velaku, are you okay? What is it, what happened?"
I wrapped my arms around his waist and cried into his warm skin. His wings folded around me, brushing gently down my back in sharp contrast to the pain I had felt in my dream. Here was comfort and peace, a warm haven to take away the fear and misery that I dreamed about every few nights. He always came to comfort me; every time I cried out he woke me and held me until I calmed.
He asked about the nightmare but I couldn't speak of what happened to me in the dreams. This time had been the worst one, never before had they been so real. I had felt actual physical sensation and pain rather than just the sense of foreboding and overwhelming fear in the darkness.
"Velaku, look at me," My father pulled my chin up to stare into my wet eyes. "This dream holds power over you as long as you allow it. It cannot harm you if you do not let it. Whatever happens it isn't happening to you, not really. It's not real."
"I know it's not real," I whispered, unable to speak louder with my throat so raw from the violent screaming and tears that clogged it. I continued to tremble and had to fight to speak at all. "I don't know how to stop the fear. I don't understand why it keeps coming, I don't want to dream like this but it won't go away."
"In time, you will learn why you bear this burden I am sure. The whys of things in life are rarely so easily answered. But for right now you have me. I will be here whenever you fear your dreams and together we will try to find a way to beat them. Remember, my wings will always shelter you in times of trouble."
I nodded and trembled a little as I rested my small head against his chest. He held me and rocked me for a time before he laid me back down, pulling up the powder blue sheets and my cloud coverlet and kissed my forehead. That was all the reassurance my child mind needed. But still the dreams continued.
It was several years after that night that my father went to work one day and never returned. My teenage mind didn't grasp the import of the whispers and fearful looks that went on for days. I knew something was wrong when I asked my mother each day where my father was but I had such confidence in his promise that he would always be there for me I accepted her feeble reassurances and shrugged off the vague worry I felt deep inside.
Then one night I had another nightmare.
It started off with the same lack of sensation but the fear and the pain were more intense than ever. A sense of heat and blood, the taste and smell filled my senses. I felt almost as if I was experiencing the dream in truth. I was somehow aware of my body lying in my bed yet I was unable to wake up. I could feel things, things that felt like they were shifting inside of me. I tried desperately to wake up, used all the will I possessed to stop the dream.
I finally lunged upright and gasped before an agonized scream tore from my throat. My mother rushed into my room, the bright light from the living room dazzling my eyes from where I huddled against the wall. When she sat next to me crooning I saw the tears falling down her cheeks.
"Where is he Mother? Where is he?"
I needed my father; I needed his wings and his promise of safety.
She pulled my head back with both her hands to look into my eyes, the cobalt blue eyes I got from my father.
"We got a phone call tonight from the police. They found your father but he was hurt by some bad people. He can't come home to us sweetheart, he was just hurt too bad. But now he's up in the currents soaring the sky forever while he waits for us to join him. He will always watch over you but he can't come back home again."
I didn't understand, not at first. She kept stroking my face as tears slipped down hers to drip on her blouse. I shook my head and frowned as I mouthed her words silently as I tried to make sense of them. I shrieked over and over when it finally sank in that my father would never return to earth, never fold his wings around me and tell me it would all be okay.
I tore out of my mother's arms and ran from the house. The cliff was so close and I fell to my knees at the very edge, keening my sorrow and fierce hatred of those who had taken my father from me. I wanted to leap off and join him in the skies though I had no wings; I wanted to hunt those responsible down and rend them to pieces with my blunt, talonless fingers and stop them from ever hurting anyone else.
Mostly I wanted the comfort of a father now forever beyond my reach.
I could hear my mother singing my hatchling song to try and calm me but my pain was too much to respond to her as I keened my grief, rocking back and forth with my arms wrapped around my body. Hours later I slumped unconscious at the rim of the ledge, one arm reaching out to the air currents that slipped up the cliff face to caress my hand as I mourned the loss of my father.
A sharp pain took me; all of a sudden I was back in the darkness of my dreams. This time I could hear a voice, one that hissed up and down in my mind, a strange chanting wail that pulled at something inside me just like it had earlier. Trapped, my body pinned down in the dream, all I could feel was a burning in my back and hands, a flash of sharp white hot pain that both woke me instantly and stunned me as motionless as I had been held in the dream.
I heard a tearing sound and felt my shirt split up the back to hang loosely from my arms. At the end of each finger was a long talon that was curved sharp and deadly. I buried them in the ground, trying to hold on to my sanity.
This couldn't be happening. I tried to stand up, to find my mother.
I felt it as wings unfurled from the buds on my back, like a muscle stretching beyond its limit, bowing my body in pain and tearing a new scream from my throat. There was an echo in my mind but I was too focused on the pain to understand that it wasn't coming from me.
My mother came running from out of the house toward me but she stopped and stared in shock, one hand over her mouth. I panted, on my knees again with my head resting on my arms on the hard ground as the pain slowly subsided. Hearing my mother gasp, I opened my eyes and saw a great shadow on the ground around me. I looked up into the snowy white that surrounded me.
It was my wings, torn from my back years before they should.
Not only that, but they were a blinding white with a snow red drop on the tip of each feather. A color I had never seen before. The shock of seeing them was too much on top of everything else and I fainted.
I didn't hear my mother call for help and I didn't see the stares of the Falcons who came at her call. I roused slightly and twitched as they moved me to my room and laid me down carefully on the bed to wait for the doctor. My mind had decided that my body had enough shocks and it was protecting me. I fell into a deep sleep that held no dreams.
It was some time later when I woke up in my bed alone. The sheets were cool under my hot face as I lay there, trying to wrap my mind around what had happened. That was when I heard them, the quiet whispers from the hall. I closed my eyes quickly when my door cracked open.
"See, Dr. Pannar, his wings, years early. And the colors!" My mother's voice was almost hysterical.
"You say they just burst from his back? What was he doing?"
"I told him about his Keserem. He was keening on the cliffs, all alone. He wouldn't let me comfort him." My mother paused and let out a quiet sob that she quickly muffled.
"I was so sorry to hear about that Elalera. The loss of your mate is a great sorrow." The doctor's voice was laced with sadness; I had heard whispers from the other fledglings that his mate died of the coughing sickness just last year. Carthera mated for life and to lose what amounted to one's heart and soul often meant quick death for the surviving mate who couldn't handle the loss.
"But what I need to know is exactly what Velaku doing when his wings came out."
I was listening intently, keeping my eyes closed. I had never seen another flier with wings at my age and the shock I had seen in my mother's eyes and heard in her voice stayed with me. I desperately needed to find out why I was different; the need was as great as my sorrow for my father. I didn't want to be even more different.
"He had fallen asleep at the edge of the ledge. He pushed me away to grieve on his own. He was always closest to his father so I wanted to give him some space. Life is hard for a Carthera boy his age and a mother is not what he truly needs now. I could hear him mumbling in his sleep from the hall but when he screamed I ran to him. His eyes were wild and he didn't seem to really see me. All of a sudden his wings split the back of his shirt and unfurled around him. I was so shocked I couldn't move. Then he passed out."
My mother sounded scared and confused and I longed to comfort her. She was wrong. I did need her, I loved her, but what I wanted was my father. She was right in that; but I wanted to know just then the most was what was so wrong with me. I kept up my act, trying to breathe normally though I doubted with the dim light that they could see my back under the folds of my wings.
"I've never seen the wings burst on their own without a ceremony, have you?" she asked.
"No. Something very strange is going on here. The wings of a fledgling have to be coaxed out after they meet their mate and blood bond. The pair is always together as they are sung out by their families." The doctor sounded as confused as my mother.
"I know. I just don't understand how this happened; it's not possible. Do you think they could have been brought on by what happened to Keserem?"
"I don't know, I just don't. Do you know more of what really happened?"
My mother let out a soft sob and pulled away from the doctor; he went to her and they spoke so quietly I couldn't hear them. I heard the creak of my door shutting and almost shredded my pillow in frustration with my new talons. I knew now why my mother was so shocked over my wings coming out but I needed to hear more about my father too. I slid out of bed and tiptoed over to my door, cracking it open as slowly as I could. I strained to hear the voices in the den.
"The police said... human hunters with lynx Carthera... hit his wing and hunted... tore him apart.
"It was murder."
I could only hear parts of what she said but it was enough to unleash the fury boiling inside that my wings had made me forget. I shrieked and my wings burst open and spread behind me as I threw my head backward and announced my fury from the swollen cords of my throat. I heard an answering call in my mind but again was so distraught that I didn't think about what it meant.
"Velaku!" Dr. Pannar pulled open my door and stared at me in shock. The light fell on my wings and the red drops seemed to throb as my wings rose and fell with each harsh breath. "Your eyes, oh Gods, your eyes." He seemed frightened, stepping backward until he slammed into the wall.
"Velaku, you need to listen to me. You must calm down, you must master this rage." I tried to listen, tried to obey, but it was so hard. I felt the pain of my father's murder burning in my veins as I opened hands now tipped by lethal talons. I was in full hunter mode and my anger surged and burned my veins as if it was acid burning me from the inside. My eyes glowed red as if the fires of righteous wrath burned from them.
The image I saw in the mirror shocked me but not enough to loosen the hold the rage had on me.
"My son, please, please, stop this."
My stare snapped from the doctor standing in my way to my mother trilling my hatchling song, trying to bring calmness and peace to my soul. It lessened the killing rage but I was still unable to talk, thinking only of the revenge I was sworn to visit upon my father's killers.
"Your father would not want this, for you to follow him into death. You must not do this; you are not ready. You must calm yourself." She stood in the doorway, one hand held up as if that could stop me if I tried to escape.
My voice was distorted, harsh with the urge to shriek my fury until all knew that I was on the hunt. My voice was a harsh croak.
"My father would not want his killers free to savage more Carthera!"
She shook her head. "That is not your call yet. You are still a youngling, no matter how early your wings and talons come. You must wait, bide your time. I will not stand in your way after you reach your maturity and find your mate. If you must act now then call the Falcons. Put them on the hunt."
She took a step toward me, hand still out.
"You can still act in honor."
I stood rooted to the floor, her calm words bringing sense if not peace to my mind. I resented it even as I knew she was right; I did not even know how to use my wings and claws yet. I shuddered as I pushed down the fiery fury until it was a hard icy ball lodged deep inside. My core was now bathed in the ice of a grim purpose.
"My father's people belong to me, the clan belongs to me," I said proudly, furling my wings to lay flat against my back.
"Bring me Mishtar. The Falcons will hunt this day!"