Little claws and scaly hides, downy feathers and snapping jaws—all fought in vain to be the first to receive the glistening regurgitated meat from Wadjet. Boisterous squeaks and vicious scuffles followed as the bits of meat dropped onto their tiny heads.
The littlest hatchling kept her distance from her larger siblings. Her first attempts at getting along with her nestmates almost left her dead…or so she felt, as she didn’t receive a single scratch from their talons or teeth. Their loud voices and odd gestures frightened her. She waited patiently until a tiny blot of meat landed in her direction, often carefully placed by the alpha female herself. She ate it slowly, swallowing it whole as her siblings did.
Even though she was the first to hatch, she was the last to fledge, the last to leave the nest.
She watched her siblings from a careful distance. She watched them take their first wobbly steps, flap their tiny wings, and chase one another playfully. She watched them fight amongst one another for food. She even watched them dare to leap out of the nest and to begin on the path of making nests of their own.
That wasn’t to say the hatchling hadn’t grown. Like her siblings, she shed much of her down of youth, her adult plumage poking in here and there. Her feathers were growing in a mahogany shade, her underside an off-white stained with ruddy blotches. Her wing feathers were off-white with alternating bands of black. Her tailfeathers had yet to form, her tail still covered in the down she was born with, indicating her age.
She preferred to stay in the nest while her siblings rushed about the forest, teasing one another and chirruping amongst themselves about their odd older sister.
She slept most days, and hunted at night. Her first hunting excursions were unsuccessful, but one night she managed to kill a tiny huffing mammal with her enlarged toe claws. Thrilled, she brought the kill back to the nest, eating with wild abandon while her sleeping siblings paid her no mind.
The alpha pair conversed quietly with one another, watching the fledglings from a distance.
“The littlest one has improved…she’s hunting on her own now,” Ra remarked.
“Initiation will begin soon…” Wadjet trailed off, ending on a deep sigh.
“As I said when she hatched, we don’t know her fate. Only the winged from above can answer that.”
“She is healthier than I expected…”
“…and that is what we can hope for.” Ra studied the fledgling in question carefully. “Perhaps the Guardians can be of assistance.”
“The Guardians keep to themselves these days,” Wadjet warned Ra. “I don’t think they will be of much help. Besides, until the Initiation Ceremony, we won’t know where she wishes to go…”
“If she can shift, perhaps she can blend into the trees instead of run into them.” The pair laughed gently at Ra’s joke.
“I doubt she can; she dreams vividly but the dreams make no sense…”
“Maybe she is a Seeker?”
“The Archaeopterygids would have claimed her long ago if that were the case.”
“Again, not likely…she hurts herself more than she can help others…she is kind, but does not have the wisdom of that clan…”
Ra fluffed himself in agitation. “Time will tell what her fate is…”
“Circles within circles…and lines within lines…we know her fate…we just…fear it…wish it was something else…” Wadjet preened herself instinctively, calming herself as she felt the familiar panic set in. Why did this fledgling make her feel so helpless?
“I’m afraid for her, too,” Ra admitted softly to his mate. “She is strong…but…could she be the Warrior that the Seekers need?”
“Perhaps she’s a mistake…” Wadjet felt like crying. She felt so guilty for leaving the nest just after adding the new eggs…rolling them away from their birth parents…did such an action impact the fledgling’s mind? Maybe the movement jostled her free from her birth pouch too soon…the thought made Wadjet preen furiously.
“You are not to blame, and neither is she,” Ra reassured his mate. “She was born this way. She will grow and change, and she will leave the nest one day. Let us hope she succeeds in her chosen Life Path. That is all we can do. She can hunt on her own…it’s only a matter of time before she is initiated…before the Lek…before she settles into a nest full of her own hatchlings. That is the bright future, which is what we must focus on for her…”
Wadjet nodded weakly. The littlest fledgling somehow usurped so much of her energy. She wondered why she was chosen for the task of raising the tiny creature. The fledgling did show affection from time to time, but it was not the same comforting touch that her siblings possessed—it was a distant and somehow pure affection, one unchanged from her hatching to her fledging. Wadjet wondered if this youthful innocence, this loving presence, this fiercely stubborn fledgling could ever learn to leave the nest and fly into a successful niche…could ever lose her downy feathers and become a full adult.
The alpha pair settled into their new nest for the evening, one at a safe distance from the other fledglings. Many of them had already constructed their own nests; poorly done, of course, with cycad fronds and pine needles poking them in awkward places, but a start nevertheless.
The littlest fledgling remained in the alpha pair’s old nest, contented by the bits of broken eggshell from her youth, the old and dry needles, and the worn dirt around her legs and feet.
She curled her tail around her feet and yawned.
The sun dropped below the horizon, the last rays of light piercing the trees. The sky glowed a dull orange, then began to fade into darkness. The cold wind rustled past the littlest fledgling’s feathers, making her instinctively puff up and draw her body into a tighter curl. She rotated her head, stuffing her nose into her shoulder as the first stars shone down above the canopy. Her siblings did the same, some opening their eyes from time to time, glowing like the stars, only to wink out.
As she slept, a soft feminine voice called to her…singing the phrase Circles within circles…lines within lines…over and over….