The sunlight lightened the sky little by little, the stars fading away. The fledgling had not slept well.
She kept thinking of the Guardian, the avian that had landed near her nest and given her the cryptic message about a legacy. What did that mean? How could she consider such things, when she couldn’t even perform her half of the mating dance?
She preened herself delicately, moving slowly in her makeshift nest. Every muscle in her young body ached. She was still dazed from yesterday’s challenges, and the new day had already begun.
Wearily, she stood, shaking off the dust from her plumage and stretching her neck toward the rising sun.
She decided it would be best for her body and mind to wander and explore. She hadn’t done so by herself—usually she was accompanied by the insistent alpha female and male—but she felt today would be a different day.
The fledgling studied her resting siblings. They didn’t even budge as she stepped past, being careful not to disturb them. The alpha pair were sound asleep also, their necks entwined in a loving embrace. The fledgling gave them a passing glance, relieved they weren’t up before she was. For now, she could escape her pack and experience her own kind of freedom.
She found a path through the forest, a thin trail of dirt that led her to a babbling stream. She drank, dipping her muzzle into the cold water and tilting her head up, letting the water flow down her throat. She did this several times before continuing on the path.
She enjoyed the silence of the forest in the early morning. Few creatures had woken up; the nocturnal mammals were safe in their burrows, and the diurnal avians and saurians were still asleep.
She wandered past several boulders and felt the tickle of ferns at her feet. The cycads and redwoods filtered sunlight through their canopies, lending a green glow to the hushed world around her.
The fledgling found a place where the path had widened, leading her into a secluded clearing. To her left the stream she had followed flowed into a waterfall, then into a small lake. Several fish weaved beneath the water, stirring up the sediment and algae. To her right the forest continued, becoming darker as the trees grew closer together. It was here that the fledgling often wandered, seeking refuge from the slights she endured.
She hopped up onto a large flat boulder, then sat. The sunlight warmed the rock and her body. She spread her wings, allowing her body to absorb as much warmth as possible. She sighed, content. For a few moments, she could be at peace.
Something crashed through the branches of the cycads closeby, smashing onto the ground by her sunning rock. Startled, her eyes snapped open and she leaped backward, swinging her wings out for balance.
Irritated, the fledgling narrowed her eyes at the intruding object—a gingko seed. It had split open, its stench filling the clearing. A rush of wings buffeted her head. She hissed at the newcomer, then recognized it at once.
The bright green avian landed awkwardly, his tailfeathers dragging like coattails on the forest floor. He gulped down the gingko seed meat, tilting his head to examine both it and the irritated fledgling. He finished his meal, tossing the rest of the seed with a flick of his head, his bright orange beak stained with green and yellow gingko fruit flesh. He then hopped over to the stream, put his beak underwater, and spat out the water with a huff.
In the meantime, the fledgling had returned to her sunning spot, trying to relax. The newcomer had distracted her, and this upset her—how could she relax now? He studied her and hopped all around her, tilting his head to look at her closely, watching as she tried to focus on the warmth of the sun again.
He bowed a little. “Good morning!” he warbled softly, his deep voice echoing through the clearing and in her mind. “Sorry to disturb you. I’ll be off now!”
The fledgling watched as the bright green avian ran to the highest point of her sunning rock. He then launched himself off, spreading his wings, the sunlight shining through his red primaries and green contours, giving him an otherworldly glow. He flapped his wings once, then glided on the warm air, following the thermals above the clearing.
The fledgling gazed up, craning her neck as high as it would go. The bright green avian was flying in large circles, ascending well above the canopy of the forest. She wondered how much he could see, how far he could fly. The black four-wingeds could not fly as well as this avian, and she was impressed with the graceful movements he had. She wished that she could soar above the ground, escaping her situation, laughing at last at those who had for so long laughed at her.
She hopped off her sunning rock as the mists of the morning began to clear. She was about to turn down the path toward her nest when she saw something flicker in the wind out of the corner of her eye. She turned back toward her rock, gazing in wonder at it.
It was a feather unlike any she had seen before. It was blue, as blue as the sky, with darkened edges, as if the sky was shifting into night. On the end of the feather was a strange device, a bent horsetail reed. She sniffed at the feather, its down quivering gently. The scent belonged to an avian she had never smelled before. This perplexed her still further. She looked up, wondering if the bright green avian had dropped his prized possession.
Sure enough, the familiar rush of wings she associated with him filled the clearing. He tilted his head at her in greeting, studying her carefully.
“Give me the talisman, fledgling,” he commanded, albeit in a gentle tone.
“What is a talisman?” the fledgling queried.
“That feather,” the bright green avian explained. “I need it. Please give it to me.”
“Why do you need it? It doesn’t belong to you.” The fledgling fluffed herself anxiously. “It doesn’t smell like you, and it’s not your color. Whose is it? Why is it important?”
“The talisman is mine. I received it from another avian.” His vague response only served to frustrate her.
“Which one? Why do you need it?”
“I need it because it allows me to do something very special. Now please, fledgling. Give me the talisman, or else I will talk to your alpha female.”
“What good will that do? She doesn’t know you.” The fledgling was stubborn. She gazed at the feather curiously, then thought of her dream. If he really is a Guardian… “Does this…is this…magic?”
“How do you know of such things?” the bright green avian wondered, impressed. He shook himself, ridding himself of the distracting thought. He hopped closer to her. “The talisman. Now.”
The fledgling thought this avian seemed rather full of himself, considering he was less than half her height, even when he was upset and half his plumage was fully raised.
“You dropped it. You get it.”
The bright green avian ran at full tilt toward her, flapping his wings in her face before he landed on the rock, snatching the talisman in his claws. He flew above her head, then dropped it. He swooped down, catching the talisman around his neck just before crashing into her.
He then landed on the ground, gazing up at her. He narrowed his eyes. “You are quite the challenge. I always like a challenge.”
“Well, you’re quite rude, expecting me to do as you say without question. I don’t know you, and I don’t know much about the world, begging your pardon.”
“Fair enough.” The bright green avian chuckled to himself, gazing at the fledgling fondly despite his stern countenance. “I will give you my name, at least. I am Flash.”
“I have no name, yet. I will be named at the next Initiation Ceremony.”
“Fledgling. I find you curious, littlest fledgling. I have been watching you for some time. You have become an outcast. You ask questions. This is dangerous. Sometimes, you can’t ask—you must just do things, without asking. Such is the world—it is a dangerous place. Yet here you are, utterly unafraid. I am a Guardian, and I can change my shape into whatever I please. I could kill you, for being insolent. But I won’t. I will train you, instead.”
“Train…me?” the fledgling was overwhelmed now. She had never heard of a Guardian selecting an avian to train before. Usually the alpha female or male would place an avian with a Guardian, with their permission. And usually Guardians chose the next alphas to train, not an omega! “This must be…”
“…a mistake? No. I do not err in judgment. At least, not in this.” Flash hopped around the fledgling, inspecting her once again. “You have a sharp mind. That is good! And you notice things others do not. Also good! Your physical form may not be the best, but that is all right. You can get by without physical prowess. To become a Warrior takes strength of mind and heart, not body. Yes, you will make a fine student. I will train you.”
The fledgling paused. She gazed at Flash, then at the path toward the exercise ring. “What of my pack?”
“After Initiation, we will talk.” Flash took his leave, flapping his wings once to become airborne, then following the thermals once again to ascend above the canopy.
The fledgling turned toward her adopted family, wondering if what had happened was merely a figment of her overactive imagination.