Thick and metallic, the scent of fresh blood clung to her muzzle and body. She jerked her head and neck, tearing apart muscle and skin. Protofeathers drifted to the forest floor as she ate, ravenous.
The Lek had ended. Iara was hungry enough to hunt, aided by her new nestmates at times. Today, she was hunting alone. Atum-Bennu often reminded her hunting alone was a fool’s errand, but Iara was obstinate.
The youngling was an easy catch, a reptilian nightmare of scales and protofeathers that hissed at her before she punctured its jugular with her terrible claws.
Bloodied and sated, Iara sat, snorting excess droplets from her nostrils in the sunlight of midday.
She noticed something odd on the ground by her feet.
It was a trail of footprints, but whose she did not recognize. These feet left odd marks—where only three or four toes should be, there were five. And instead of joining to the rest of the foot, they were separated. She tilted her head to the side, puzzled.
She was tempted to follow the trail, but waited to digest her meal before moving. She spread her wings to the sun, sighing.
A few hours passed. She felt the dried blood caking her facial lores, and shook herself. I need a bath.
She reluctantly got up, unwittingly following the marks in the earth beneath her to the nearby stream.
She plunged her face into the cool stream multiple times, shaking her head and neck to remove the blood and water. Droplets of both were flung away, her nictitating membranes protecting her eyes.
She then noticed the odd trail of footprints in the streambed, crossing it and wandering into the depths of the forest.
She blinked, hesitating. Only a Guardian can make these prints, she realized, thinking of Flash. She hadn’t seen Flash in weeks. Or…a shapeshifter…
Iara leaped over the streambed, following the footprints. She wandered through ferns, weaved into a stand of evergreens, and found herself in a clearing surrounded on all sides by large trees. The footprints then appeared to move in a wide circle. Iara stopped, sitting in the middle of the circle, laughing at the motion.
He watched her, fascinated. His dark coat hid him well in the shadows of the trees, despite his brilliant rosettes.
Iara swept her tail around her, watching the sunset through the trees. She wondered if her nestmates were looking for her. I should probably get back…
“Wait,” a warm whisper, a gentle nudge.
“Who’s there?” Iara was startled, moving to a defensive posture. She spread her wings in front of her, puffing her chest and crest slightly.
Iara’s heart began to pound. She whirled about, keeping her primaries open.
“I mean you no harm,” the soft rumble reassured. His voice made her plumes stand on end.
“Stay away!” Iara yelped, trembling.
“Why are you afraid? I mean you no harm,” he repeated. “I am here to help you.”
“So is everyone else,” Iara rolled her eyes, tired of this idea she was a hapless youngling. “Again—who are you?!”
“Scylla,” he chuffed. He grunted, “Turn around. It’s alright.” Iara did so, bumping into an enormous avian, one far larger than Atum-Bennu. His plumage was captivating—his crest was a deep blue with silver highlights, and his coverts were pitch black. His eyes were a startling bright blue, twinkling in mischievous mirth. Around his neck was something that made Iara’s heart falter—an opalized ammonite.
“Circles within circles…!” Iara murmured, gazing at Scylla in disbelief. She caught her breath and looked away.
Scylla noted Iara’s rapid movements, saw she was unsure. “You’re afraid of me. Afraid of others. Afraid of yourself.”
“I…I…!” Iara stammered. Scylla sighed.
“You have much potential. The Warriors have summoned you. Are you ready to heed our call?”
Scylla stared at her. “What?”
“No,” Iara stood her ground. “No! I am not ready, I don’t know if I ever will be! I am no Warrior. I am not brave, I am not fierce, I am not strong!”
Scylla listened, silent.
“I just want to be left alone. I don’t want to go on this journey, I don’t need a Guardian. I just want to breathe.”
Scylla tilted his head to one side. He blinked.
“I am no Warrior!!” Iara hissed, anger clouding her mind. “I am me, I am Iara!”
“Iara,” Scylla echoed, taking in her name.
“Yes,” she snarled. “Now leave me alone!”
“So be it, Iara,” Scylla grunted. He wandered by her coolly, his form melding into the melanistic jaguar effortlessly, as wind moving over still water. Scylla sat at the edge of the clearing, his eyes aglow in the darkness. “Why did you come here?”
“I…I saw these footprints, so I followed them,” Iara blinked.
“You found me, as I knew you would,” Scylla grunted. “But you need to answer this—why are you here? Who are you? What do you want most?”
Iara sat, staring at Scylla. Scylla blinked, then turned away, disappearing into the forest.
“From the darkness comes light,” Scylla’s voice carried to her.
Atum-Bennu and Tawaret rushed into the clearing, worry in their eyes.
“Iara! There you are!” Atum-Bennu embraced her, relieved.
“We’ve been looking for you all day!” Tawaret admonished her, her hatchling trilling between her toes.
“I am sorry,” Iara sighed. “I went hunting and got lost…”
“Again!” Atum-Bennu shook his head. “Come on, let’s get back to the nest.”
Bennu and Tawaret led the way. Iara looked back to the empty clearing, wondering about Scylla’s words.
Background music: https://soundcloud.com/foxamoore/together-we-will-stand