The preparations for the Lek were underway. Iara could hear the avians’ calls, the breaking of trees and the endless pawing of the earth…and none of it interested her. She began to dread it. She confined herself to her nest day and night, hoping no avian could detect the fear in her scent.
One evening, Flash startled Iara in her nest. “Follow me,” he growled, his eye shine an eerie green.
Iara reluctantly followed her mentor as he easily crept into the forest, his velvet pawpads silencing his movement. She ducked large gingko and evergreen boughs, nearly tripping over rotting logs. She splashed into a large puddle, the sudden noise startling them both.
“Be quiet!” Flash rumbled angrily.
“Sorry!” Iara leapt onto dry ground, shaking her feet.
The unlikely duo continued wandering into the forest. Finally, Flash stopped. Iara nearly stumbled into him, then skittered back, her wings outstretched for balance.
“We are here.” Flash gave a heavy breath, a chuff chuff. A hollowed out cycad trunk hanging by the den’s entrance was transformed into a torch. He took it in his teeth and waved his head for Iara to enter.
Iara watched as the dim light from the torch illuminated the walls of Flash’s den, wavering as he walked. The skins of his prey adorned the walls, most of which were fish, some unlucky avians, and a few mammals she didn’t recognize. The dirt beneath her feet was unusually soft.
Flash set the torch into a large ammonite shell. The den sparkled in the glow of the fire. Iara gasped.
Crude drawings of ammonites, feathers, avians and saurians, traced on the skins of dead creatures, littered the walls. Skins of Flash’s prey were draped against the floor and sides of the den. The bones of his prey were heaped in one corner. His nest was a pile of rotting ferns and pine needles. Iara watched Flash shake off his talisman and carefully hang it near his nest.
“Why are you doing that?” Iara wondered. Flash sighed.
“I must hunt,” he explained. “During the Lek, I spend time away from the other avians. I need you to watch my den while I am gone. You may sleep here, if you wish. Do not touch anything. I will return at dusk in a half moon.”
Iara nodded. She watched Flash saunter away, confident she wouldn't get into any mischief.
A week passed. Iara could not sleep. She decided to check on Flash’s den, to keep her mind from worrying about the Lek.
She peeked inside the entrance to Flash’s den, her breath steaming on the cold wind. The darkness sent a chill down her spine as she made her way toward his nest.
She began to rearrange the ferns in Flash’s nest when she noticed his talisman, glinting in the moonlight.
No, I mustn’t touch it.
Iara finished straightening the nest, and started to close her eyes, having just settled into it.
Her eyes snapped open, and she drew in a loud gasp. She leapt up, strewing pine needles and ferns all over the den floor.
No one was there.
“Hello?” she chirruped, her feathers standing on end.
Over here, Iara. By his nest.
Iara looked over at the feather. Did…did the talisman…talk to me?! Her heart pounding, Iara gazed hard at the feather, fascinated by its faint luminescence.
Iara froze, her nostrils flared. Her breath displaced some barbs on the edges of the Archaeopteryx feather. The feminine voice echoed in her mind as wind moving through a slot canyon.
The forest was quiet. The den was still. The voice continued,
He is my pupil. But so are you.
Death is the end of one cycle. A circle has no beginning, and no end. Cycles and circles, they loop, they turn on each other. Life will eventually lead to death, death in turn leads to life. Many lives, many loops, many lines in time. Circles within circles. Lines within lines.
Iara remembered her initiation scar. “Is…is that what my scar means? Can…can I live forever?!”
Youngling, no one lives forever.
“Then…how am I hearing you?!”
I bear a message, from my owner, an ancient message time has not heeded. Will you listen?
Iara paused. She felt delusional, carrying on a conversation with a feather. She was glad no one was there to overhear it.
You will find your shadow in the forest. You must follow her to the ends of the Earth, where I lie in wait. You will travel far, and you will discover your strengths. Listen to your heart and gut, for these know the Way. You will protect those you love, especially yourself. I will teach you how to become a Warrior, but you must pass these tests first. Can I trust you to do this?
“Yes.” Iara hesitated.
Flash will return soon. You must leave. Do not discuss what I have told you with anyone.
The feather was silent. Iara shook herself, dazed.
She straightened Flash’s nest again, and carefully made her way back to her nest. She settled into it, considering the feather’s message.
As she drifted into an uneasy sleep, she heard the cries of a lone male avian on the wind…