Built along the base of the Tannator Mountains, the emerging kingdom of Wameri sits facing the wild and open fields of the Illitran Plains. To the west, is the desert Arthion, where men tell tales of the arid and dry horrors of the land. Toward the rising sun in the east, a wide river flows and provides life to the growing kingdom. Docked on this river, known as the Azariah, are several trading boats. The largest boat, a ship, has triangular sails that mark it as Zehahn, a great city in the south.
The shadow and call of a phoenix rippled gently over the ship's yellow sails. It travelled on toward the awakening city leading the first rays of the sun over the land. The flaps of its wide ebony feathered wings push the hot air down, kicking up swirls of dirt in the pathways that vein between the sparse and scattered infrastructure of the city. It glides swiftly across the grasses of the Illitran Plains outside the city further on to a small cluster of homes. The homes are all of similar make, stonework and thatched roofs from the abundant grasses of the plains, and share a common disinterest in the city's mines. The phoenix flies above the homes and on toward three lofty towers built from wood and stone.
The towers hold several hollows situated in levels of rings surrounding the whole of the tower. The hollows, built big enough for a phoenix to nest. Each of them were occupied by a slumbering phoenix catching the last moments of the night. If awake, they were picking through their ruffled feathers awaiting the alpha's return. The dark phoenix that flew across the city pushed with it's strong wings higher into the sky and circled above the towers. The other birds in the aviary towers readied themselves impatiently at the edge of their hollows, bouncing on one foot to the other. The phoenix called out once more, the song of the morning, and the aviaries flooded with all of the phoenix birds of the city. They flew high to meet their leader in the sky and began their flight of the morning across the plain. The flock flew down close to the cluster of homes, creating a moving shadow that swept behind them.
Two men, young, one man and the other, a blend of man and Vilnian, walked along the dirt path toward the towers. The phoenixes glided over them briskly, covering them with their extensive shadows. The heavy gust of wind blew through the dark hair of Omydaedren Sihai and forced him to brush it out of his eyes. His friend, Vesstan Skytalon seemed to barely mind the wind created by the birds. He instead busied himself readying his own, Zrerra, for flight. She was no more than a normal hawk, the other phoenix birds stretching their wingspan to that of some trees. The hawk tensed her legs for flight and Vesstan pushed his arm with Zrerra upward. She took flight and caught the wind of the phoenix flock and glided along with them, her size difference almost humorous to Omydaedren.
"She loves it Daedren, look at her," Vesstan said as he stopped to watch the flock fly off. Omydaedren continued down the path, not looking back for the bird. Zrerra had never liked him even when he attempted a friendship with her. To be fair, as a fledgling Zrerra didn't even like Vesstan and Omydaedren never understood why Vesstan kept her around after what she did to him. Another wind carried itself across the fields of green bringing with it the mustiness of the plains. Omydaedren tugged his shirt down and folded his arms as he walked on toward the aviary. "Are you heading for the mines today?" Vesstan asked, catching up to his friend with a light jog. Omydaedren knew why his friend was asking but, continued anyway. "After we finish with our chores here, I'm heading toward the city, why?" Omydaedren asked. He caught a smile on Vesstan's face before the young man attempted to hide it by scratching his scarred cheek. "Mother would not let me go today unless I tell her you need me," Vesstan replied. Omydaedren snickered, "You want to see Elisen, you could just come out with it." Vesstan's face, although it was umber in color, he knew it was flushed. Omydaedren poked fun but, he knew Vesstan was always better with the girls. Although, it was not fair in his opinion that Vesstan got all the attention because of his scars. They made the girls seem to always swoon without Vesstan saying a word. And he carries that bird around, he thought. After all, Zrerra was the one who gave him that scar, digging her talons into the side of his face. He's lucky he came out with both eyes and just one side of his face was torn! "Of all of the girls that express a liking toward you, you want the only one that doesn't give you a second glance," Omydaedren bumped Vesstan's arm with his elbow. Vesstan simply responded with a shake of his head and watched his feet as he walked on.
The two men came closer to the aviary towers. The Skytalon family, deemed so for their talent with the phoenix bird and flying abilities, were already hard at work on the morning tasks. "Good of you to show up!" A woman, Vasati Skytalon shouted down from the upper deck of the first tower. The woman's hair was threaded in individual rope-like locks, as was the Skytalon signature, that she had tied into a congested knot above her head. "Good morning cousin," Vesstan sighed, scratching his eye again. Omydaedren continued toward the spiraling steps that led to the upper deck of the open tower. "This is when Vesstan and I always arrive in the mornings Vasati," Omydaedren remarked, stomping up the stairs. Vesstan followed closely behind him. "And you're always the last ones to arrive," Vasati replied. The woman stood only a few inches shorter than Omydaedren, another Skytalon trait most likely gifted from their Vilnian blood, and was keeping watch for the returning flock. It was the most dangerous time to be in the towers when the flock did return. The power of their wings alone would knock any man to the ground, and any man would hope the direction they pushed you was not out of the tower.
"Uncle is waiting for you boys at the summit," Vasati said pointing up. Vesstan started for the next flight of wooden stairs that spiraled around a central column in the middle of the tower, "The summit? What is he doing up there?" Omydaedren rolled the sleeves of his shirt up to his elbows for the climb he was about to embark on to reach the summit. "There are flyers out. Rathal and Hagen," Vasati replied without taking her eyes off of the sky. "Rathal and Hagen! Gods, why this early?" Vesstan asked. Without waiting for an answer he hurried up the stairs with the sounds of his boots thumping on the wooden planks. Vasati laughed and shook her head.
"He'll make a fine phoenix flyer you know," Vasati stated, finally looking away from the horizon. Omydaedren scuffed his boot across the dirt covering the floor. "I know," he replied plainly.
"There is a phoenix here for you Omydaedren," Vasati said. Omydaedren lifted his eyes from the ground. "I do not want it," he replied, giving the sky a distasteful gaze. "I know it is not as simple as walking or mining," Vasati sighed. "I suppose that is why they call us what they do, talons of the sky" she continued, almost mockingly.
"It is in the blood," Omydaedren agreed. The slender woman chuckled and took up her watchful position again. "You sound like Vesstan's mother."
"Is she here?" Omydaedren asked. "No, Yesnoa is in the west tower," she replied, moving her hand to block the sun. "Unfortunate morning for my cousins," Vasati said dryly.
Omydaedren knew all too well what Vasati meant. Yesnoa Skytalon could be a fierce woman, especially when chores were not done to her liking. Vesstan and Omydaedren would take the brunt of her irritation most days, as they were the youngest. They were still in the nest is the way Yesnoa would always put it.
"I was hoping she'd be here this morning," Omydaedren said. He looked out toward the horizon. A breeze swept across the tops of the tall grass toward the city. The aviary gave a quiet groan as the wind blew against it.
"Don't board that boat until you've said your goodbyes to Yesnoa Skytalon," Vasati advised, pointing her finger at him. "Unless you plan to never return. I fear she may bludgeon you with a hammer if you do." She adjusted her hair before acting out how Yesnoa might hit him. "Or fly Hascha until she found you," she joked. "That would be something to see," Omydaedren laughed.
For a moment, Omydaedren felt a shred of regret about his decision to leave the following morning. The conversation felt bittersweet to him. I am leaving tomorrow, he told himself.
"Alred is in the summit?" Omydaedren asked. "Yes," Vasati confirmed. "Better hurry Daedren, the flock will be returning soon," she warned him. Omydaedren waved his hand as he headed up the wooden spiral.
By the time Omydaedren had reached the top hollow, his legs ached from the many steps he had to climb. If only they would use ropes like the Drarvuno in the mines. "Daedren!" Omydaedren heard as he rounded the corner. Vesstan's father was an old man now but his burly figure still showed the signs of his strong youth. His graying hair contrasted with his dark skin and hung in the same rope-like locks as his niece and half was tied behind his head with the other reaching down to his shoulders. Vesstan was accompanying his father. He carried a large leather saddle that Omydaedren knew was a phoenix saddle. Omydaedren raised his eyebrows when he saw the saddle in Vesstan's arms but Vesstan couldn't help himself from smiling.
"Good morning son," Alred said with a smile. "Good morning," Omydaedren replied. "Are you planning on making a trip to the mines today Daedren?" he asked. Omydaedren nodded his head but, the sound of a ringing bell halted any further conversation. "Ah, they're back!" Alred beamed. He waved for Omydaedren and Vesstan to follow him further inside the tower to avoid the landing flock. Vesstan lugged the saddle along with him into the inner passageway of the aviary tower.
It wasn't long before the call of a phoenix could be heard. Following the call, the wooden tower began to creak from the winds created from the circling flock of birds. A dark bird suddenly covered the entirety of the hollow hole that Omydaedren had been in. It flapped its wings aggressively as it landed it's large talons on the wooden edge of the hollow. The beating wings created swirls of dirt and straw in the air. Omydaedren heard the bits of dust and dirt smack against the wooden walls of the hollow and protected his face with his arm. Finally, the phoenix tucked it's wings in and walked into the hollow.
"There you are my halthear," Alred greeted his phoenix, Thorn in his hollow. Thorn hopped gently from one foot to another from excitement from seeing his flyer. When Alred came closer to the bird, Thorn pushed his head into Alred's chest. He rubbed the bird's massive black beak until Thorn made a low clucking sound of affection.
Alfred turned his attention back to Vesstan and Omydaedren. "I'm afraid you may not make it to the mines until close to midday," he told Omydaedren.
Thorn gave a pathetic squawk sound and fluttered his wings in an attempt to get the attention of Alred. "Yes, yes, you are a hungry beast now aren't you," Alred Skytalon brushed the beak of Thorn again with his hand.
Vesstan dropped the heap of leather at his feet and made his way around to the edge of Thorn's hollow. Omydaedren followed him but, more cautiously around the great bird. Thorn was the alpha of the flock and was the most aggressive. Omydaedren noticed Thorn look at him sideways as he walked around the bird but Thorn became more focused on his meat scraps that Alred had put down. Omydaedren winced as he watched Thorn scarf down chunks of blood soaked meat.
"They're back!" Vesstan exclaimed. He held the wooden frame of the hollow hole and leaned outward, unafraid of the staggering height. He waved toward his cousin and brother flying high on their phoenix birds.
"We'll meet them on the summit," Alred tossed another scrap of meat to Thorn. He stretched his long neck to catch it with his sharp, hooked beak and swallowed it whole. Omydaedren barely poked his head out of the hollow, a dizziness always keeping him away from the edge. He caught only a glimpse of the two birds gliding toward the aviary before he moved away from the edge. Vesstan swung himself back into the tower and rushed to gather his saddle. Omydaedren followed his friend, moving cautiously again around Thorn.
Alred led them up a smaller flight of stairs to a hatch door. He pushed the door up and opened it. The opening gave way to swirls of wind that kicked up the dirt and hay along the wooden stairs. Omydaedren felt the bits of dirt smack into his face as he continued upward toward the summit. Alred held open the hatch whilst shielding his eyes from the sun. Vesstan stumbled up from the stairs, dragging the leather straps he could not hold.
"That's quite a breeze blowing from Tannator!" Alred exclaimed, patting Omydaedren's shoulder as he emerged from the stairway. "Perhaps Ta'thul has come to the North!" Vesstan replied. "I'll welcome him here myself if he will instead rid us of the cold," Omydaedren said, tucking his shirt in.
A sharp whistle came from above. The shadows of two phoenix birds circled around the three men.
"Morning cousins!" Hagen's voice was almost inaudible from the wind.
"Land your birds! Vesstan is flying today!" Alred's gruff voice seemed to carry enough. The birds dove down toward the tower until they glided to the surface. Both phoenixes flapped their wings hesitantly until their talons met the ground. Omydaedren could feel the force of their wings from where he stood. Hagen didn't wait for his rusted colored phoenix, Bokoh, to settle before he slid off of his saddle. Rathal waited for Tasgaul to tuck her dark brown wings before he joined his cousin. The two men looked as if they were twins rather than cousins. If they wore their dark hair the same way, it may have been difficult to tell them apart. Instead of like most Skytalons', Hagen kept his hair shaved almost to the skin. The natural swirls in the little hair he had was the only sign that it was curly if grown out. Rathal, wore his in rope locks like his family. Although he kept the sides shaved like Hagen and his locks tied behind him.
"Morning brothers," Vesstan greeted the men as they came closer.
"Today is finally the day you join us in the sky." Rathal embraced his younger brother happily. "Will you join us as well Daedren?" Hagen asked, beaming with a usual smile. Omydaedren felt a nervousness, almost a fear, when he thought of Alred making him fly.
"I would prefer to go underground," Omydaedren replied, referring to the city's mines.
"Perhaps you have Drarvuno blood," Hagen joked.
"Is that why we always see you with, what was her name?" Rathal looked to Vesstan for an answer. "Isbeil," Vesstan snickered. Omydaedren could feel his cheeks turning pink.
"I told you I am not-" Omydaedren was cut off by Hagen. "She has such beautiful eyes," Hagen teased.
"Enough," Alred said, shaking his head.
"Hagen, take the saddle from Vesstan," Alred walked away as he ordered Hagen. He looked off toward the adjacent aviary tower and waved his arm in the air. Omydaedren squinted to see who he was waving at but all he could make out was that it was a woman.
"It is mother," Rathal said. Hagen thrusted the saddle over his shoulder and went to join Alred. "She's going to help you find your bird," Rathal pulled Vesstan by the shoulder and pushed him toward Alred.
"Come on Daedren, you might as well watch and learn," Rathal waved for Omydaedren to follow.
Omydaedren followed the men to the middle of the summit. The wind blew against him as he joined the men, all squinting toward Yesnoa. She waved her arms in return for Alred.
"Come, stand here." Alred pulled Vesstan in to stand in line with his mother.
"Do you remember when Rathal summoned his bird from the towers?" Alred asked Vesstan, placing his hands on the backs of his shoulders. Vesstan rubbed his scarred eye, a nervous twitch, and nodded.
"Do you remember what I told him?" Alred asks.
"To search for mother," Vesstan said, unsure of the meaning.
"Yes, now close your eyes," Alred tapped Vesstan's shoulder and moved to his side. Vesstan glanced nervously at Omydaedren, who only looked on with the same uncertainty.
"Go on." Alred urged. Vesstan hesitantly shut his eyes.
"Now, you must find your mother. She will help to guide you and your bird to each other," Alred told him.
"How do I search for her like this?" Vesstan asked his father.
"You search within yourself, not with your eyes," Alred explained. "Look for her by remembering what it feels like to hug her. Remember her presence when she's near. If you use those feelings, you will find her." Alred stepped back further from Vesstan.
"Shouldn't be too hard to remember our mother's presence." Omydaedren heard Rathal whisper to Hagen.
"Quiet," Alred snapped.
Omydaedren watched his friend stand there, eyes closed and searching, for what felt like several minutes. He had seen the Skytalons summon a bird before, both Rathal and Hagen, but could never fully understand how they managed to do it. He was even more put off about how they wanted him to do it. I am no Skytalon. Alred told him himself, the bond is stronger between mother and child. That's why Yesnoa is there and Alred is here.
"He may need help, father," Rathal finally whispered. Alred only held up his hand to stop him. "He will find her."
After several moments, Vesstan finally opened his eyes again. It seemed silent except for another gush of cool wind. Vesstan remained focused on the horizon ahead of him. Rathal took a step toward his little brother only to be halted by the shrieking call of a phoenix.
The bird shot out of the farthest aviary tower and soared high, searching for it's rider. It called once again and tilted it's dark wings to turn.
"You've done it brother!" Rathal exclaimed. Omydaedren watched the new phoenix circle overhead in amazement. Alred clapped his hands for his son and joined him at his side. The phoenix landed unsteadily in front of Vesstan and his father. Vesstan had called a bird just like his father, a phoenix with black wings and eyes so dark it was threatening to look into them for too long.
"Hold your hand out for her," Alred told his son.
Vesstan reached his hand out to the phoenix. It quickly pulled it's head away from his hand. Her coal colored eyes rolled as she flexed her dark feathers nervously. Vesstan took a step toward his phoenix, reaching his hand closer to her. The black phoenix slowly came to him and made low chirping sounds when his hand finally rubbed her beak. Vesstan's face brightened as soon as he touched the bird and then both him and the phoenix shut their eyes for a moment. The bird made the same noise as a purring cat. Alred smiled proudly and waved to Yesnoa on the adjacent tower again.
"Time to fly," Hagen said, smirking at Rathal. He lugged the saddle over to Vesstan and then started toward his red phoenix, Bokoh.
"I hope you join us Daedren," Rathal patted Omydaedren on the shoulder before he went to his bird. Omydaedren folded his arms as another wind swept across the summit. Tasgaul shook her wings as Rathal swung himself onto the large, leather saddle that was buckled across her chest. Bokoh pecked playfully at Tasgaul as they waited for Vesstan and his new phoenix. Alred had already got him adjusting the saddle on the black phoenix.
"There we are. You are ready," Alred beamed proudly with his son.
"Do not be nervous little brother, it will be like riding Tasgaul here," Rathal told his brother, petting the dark brown feathers of Tasgaul.
"Up you go," Alred said to Vesstan. He cautiously pulled himself onto the saddle of his phoenix. She jumped only once, an old instinct now, and then relaxed when she realized it was her rider.
"Are you ready brother?" Rathal asked. Vesstan steadied himself on the saddle and glanced at Omydaedren.
"What about you?" he asked. Omydaedren joined Alred, "I'll wait for you here." Vesstan frowned at his friend. "Go on," Omydaedren insisted. His friend sighed before he nodded to his brother.
The sound of wings pulsed through the wind and Omydaedren could feel their beats as Tasgaul and Bokoh ascended enough to glide over Omydaedren and Alred. The immense size of the two birds created a gush of wind of their own that slammed into Omydaedren and Alred. They ducked their heads as they passed over them. Omydaedren could hear Vesstan laugh before his bird hopped to the edge of the summit and dove off, her wings catching the wind and gliding higher into the sky. The dark bird flapped her wings to catch up to Bokoh and Tasgaul, and followed them through the sky.
Omydaedren noticed Yesnoa wave her arms again.
"She will guide you too, if you want it," Alred told him. Omydaedren shifted his weight.
"How would I find her?" Omydaedren asked. "I am no Skytalon," he met Alred's eye.
"It is true, the bond is the strongest between mother and child," Alred sighed. "Should we ask Shael?" Omydaedren sensed that he was joking.
"How is she?" Alred asked, waving once to Yesnoa. Omydaedren folded his arms again.
"The same as yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that," he told him. "Nothing ever changes." Omydaedren sighed.
"Is that why you're leaving? For change?" Alred asked. Omydaedren squinted at him.
"Yes, I am going to learn," he replied.
"Do you need to go all the way to Ginnen, of all places, to do so?" Alred looked toward the sky, watching the three birds soar. Omydaedren had heard this all before. I'm going, he told himself.
"A man went into Othoria, the place of Gods, and returned with powerful knowledge Alred," Omydaedren argued.
"That place, Evindal, is covered in Rak'kinthar and who is to say those rumors are true?" Alred looked him in the eye, his eyes were like Vesstan's, and his rough voice seemed softer now. "I don't want to see you hurt Daedren, not when there is still a place for you here," he said.
Omydaedren sighed and scanned the ground in front of him. I am going, he told himself again, but flying would be easier than a boat.
"How would I find her Alred?" he finally asked. Alred seemed put off for a moment that he seemed to be interested in learning. He waved his arms to Yesnoa again, signaling her to be ready.
"She may not be your mother but that does not make it impossible," Alred explained. "What it feels like when she's around you, her presence, you know these things," He continued. Omydaedren lined himself with Yesnoa.
“It will come from the heart. When your chest feels like it has lit it’s own fire, that’s how you know you’ve done it,” Alred told him.
"Close your eyes, and look for her," Alred said.
Omydaedren did so but he could feel nothing but the chill in the wind. Omydaedren tried to remember the last time he hugged Yesnoa. It was when he was younger. He and Vesstan had been making trouble in the aviary tower, playing with wooden swords. They chased each other around the aviary until Omydaedren fell and scratched his knees on the wooden stairs. Yesnoa was always more of a mother to him than his own, and was there to carry him away to wash the scratches on his skin. He tried to recall what it felt like when she was carrying him to the basin.
He could remember certain things. The warmth of her body against his and the feeling of comfort from his new wounds.
Suddenly, there was something as he felt the comforting sensation again. He could sense Yesnoa as if she was directly in front of him. He wanted to open his eyes but felt lost, adrift in the peaceful environment he created inside his mind. He felt himself begin to drift away, like he had started walking but he knew his physical body had never moved. The strange feeling created panic underneath serenity. He heard his heart pound, but it was fading away too.
Someone pushed him, or perhaps not. He was looking for something but he couldn't keep his thoughts with him anymore. He felt the same as the wind now. Air being propelled by an unseen force with no intention at all. He drifted on, reaching out.
Omydaedren felt something reach back. Panic struck him through his calm serenity and his pounding heart was all he could hear. The sudden change was jarring inside of his mind. He could feel that wherever he had been, he was being torn back to his body like a predator ripping a mole out of its burrow. He could sense whatever it was reaching back was now chasing after him. Omydaedren started to regain awareness of his body. He felt his eyelids that were shut over his eyes. He opened them.
For a moment, he felt like he had forgotten how to breathe.
"Omydaedren?" Alred asked. Suddenly Alred's hand was on Omydaedren's shoulder. He jumped away and his body stung like needles pierced him everywhere all at once. He winced but by then there was no longer any pain. Omydaedren finally gulped in air, held his arms tightly and shuddered.
"You were close, you could-" Alred started.
"No!" Omydaedren cut him off. "I don't want to." he shook again. Alred held his hands up, surrendering.
"We won't." Alred waved toward Yesnoa and Omydaedren watched her leave the summit. Omydaedren could still feel, somewhere far in the distance, whatever was reaching for him. He rubbed his arms and tried to find comfort that he could feel his entire body again.
"I have seen this before," Alred began. "It can be unsettling for some to summon a bird, Vesstan's uncle Rantael had a similar experience," he continued. "It took him three tries to finally summon one," Alred explained.
"I do not want to try again Alred," Omydaedren argued. “You may not have a choice,” Alred warned. Omydaedren quickly frowned at him.
The sound of flapping wings stopped Alred from saying anymore. Bokoh, Tasgaul, and Vesstan's phoenix landed on the edge of the tower. Vesstan was still laughing, with his hair disheveled, as the birds hopped farther onto the summit. The three men quickly noticed the discord.
"Daedren?" Vesstan slid off his saddle. Rathal and Hagen swiftly followed. "Did you try to summon a bird?" Vesstan asked.
"He-" Alred tried to answer. "I could not," Omydaedren frowned.
"You could try again," Vesstan offered. "No," Omydaedren quickly replied. He felt like running from what was still reaching for him.
“It is not shameful to not succeed on the first try Daedren,” Rathal said, joining the group. Omydaedren looked away from them.
"I need to go to the mines Vesstan," Omydaedren said abruptly.
Without waiting for a reply, he started for the stairs.
"Daedren!" Rathal called behind him. Omydaedren kept walking. He heard footsteps behind him and felt a tug on his arm which made him stop. Rathal came in front of him, his dark eyes were soft and genuine.
“Come to The Grazing Buffalo with us this evening,” he said, letting go of Omydaedren’s arm. Omydaedren opened his mouth to decline but was stopped by Rathal’s anticipation.
“An attempt is still worth celebrating and besides, I’m told it’s your last night in Wameri,” he told Omydaedren.
Omydaedren looked back at Rathal, “I will come,” he replied. His reply made Rathal smile and allowed him to continue to leave the summit.
"We're celebrating!" Hagen exclaimed from behind him. Omydaedren waved his arm above him as an answer and descended down the wooden stairs.