Iara reluctantly opened one eye to the dazzling sunlight of mid-day. She spent the past few days trying to drown out the raucous calls of male avians in the lek site. Within her was a growing awareness that she did not want to join her brood siblings in the festivities...she was compelled to stay in her nest instead.
A cool cross breeze lifted her plumage, making her instinctively shake and fluff herself. The heat of the day was especially intense, and the sky was duller than usual. The air carried with it particles of ash, wafted from a distant fire or possibly from a fire-river-mountain.
Iara slowly rose from her nest of cycads and dried fern fronds. Bits of the fern fiddleheads stuck to her scale covered legs, and she fluffed herself again, shaking them one at a time. The prickling sensation of blood flow to her toes made her grunt grumpily.
Iara tried looking for her mentor several days ago, but gave up the search when his scent trail led her to his hideaway den. She tried to enter, but a pair of ochre and green eyes glinted in the darkness, as if to say, Stay away.
She stepped out of her nest, thirst driving her to leave. She found the creek that ran toward Flash’s den, connecting with the river that fed into a series of shallow lakes in the forest. She drank, tilting her head back with each swallow of water.
Iara finished drinking and was about to turn back to her nest when a shadow swept over her. She looked up, tilting her head to the left, sending an irritated glance skyward.
An odd gurgling rattle escaped the giant soaring avian above her. It was using the thermals to drift, much as Flash did, but this avian’s wings allowed it to remain suspended without flapping as much. It had a cream underbelly and pale brown coverts, laced with streaks of brown. Iara sighed, unimpressed.
Globs of guano barely missed her head, splattering on the ground. The soarer called out again, its airborne body twisting with the wind.
Iara shouted, “Hey! Watch where you’re--!”
More giant soarers swept into the sky, using the thermals to glide. A flock of four-wingeds joined them, chattering excitedly.
“…going?” Iara saw the flying avians maneuvering deeper in the forest, following the breeze and the setting sun’s path.
She followed them, craning her head upward every few steps.
The trees began to get closer together, their canopies blocking the open sky. Iara had to cross the creek as it widened into the river to continue following the avians.
She took a deep breath, tentatively stepping into the cool water. The creek had picked up considerable speed as it connected with the river—if she didn’t swim against the current, she would get swept into it.
She began panicking when her feet no longer touched the soft silt and mud under her. She kicked madly, her tail getting waterlogged. She fought against the current, but it began to drag her in its direction. She looked up, desperate to see the soarers and the four-wingeds. No sign of them.
The water rose, and her energy dropped off. She felt helpless against the current.
A soft brush of fur nudged against her calves, followed by the curve of a thick skull. She was getting pushed across the creek by a strong creature!
Iara coughed and gasped, flopping on the riverbank like a doomed fish. She stood, shaking violently from the cold of the water that soaked into every feather. She looked around for the creature that had saved her…was it her mentor?...but she didn’t see anything leave the creek after her escape.
Iara stood for several more moments, and then she saw the flying avians in the distance, encircling a very large canopy. She began to move toward them, her wet wings dripping all over the earth and underbrush.
The sunlight barely pierced the treeline as waterlogged Iara trudged toward the flying avians. She noticed a few smaller fliers leaving their perches and joining the others as she got closer to the flock.
The sun was beginning to descend past the horizon by the time Iara had caught up with the flying avians. She gasped at what she saw, shaking the last of the water droplets from her plumes.
An enormous tree, nearly the size of a sauropod’s hindquarters, engulfed the clearing where Iara stood. Perched in its branches were several smaller avians—Iara recognized these as the long-twin-tails, the same species as Flash. They were singing an eerie melody. Several four-wingeds and other two-wingeds Iara hadn’t seen before were making loops around the tree trunk as a single mass, their wingbeats in time with the music. They made their way to the uppermost branches and then swooped down toward the base of the tree with ease. The soarers were encircling the canopy, their gurgles a kind of bass to the treble of the smaller singers.
Iara sat down, staring at the tree, the avians, the last rays of sunlight illuminating the clearing. The avians seemed to be flying in circles, but they were perched at different points also—reminding Iara of…
“Circles within circles, and lines within lines,” a deep yet feminine voice regarded her.
A pair of emerald green eyes met Iara’s. A shiver of recognition raced down Iara’s spine, causing her plumage to rise.
“It is time,” the creature announced. Iara thought the creature was Flash, but this was a female version of his species. She tilted her head, thoroughly confused. “I am your shadow, and you have found me. Our journey is begun.”
A single blue Archaeopteryx feather wound its way past the avians on the breeze. It wafted gently toward the earth, landing before Iara’s feet.
“I am Moongaze. I am your shadow. You become me when you need strength.”
Iara snuffled at the feather. “This…this is Flash’s feather!” she cried, aghast.
Iara whirled around, mortified. Flash bared his teeth at Iara angrily, his tail lashing, eyes burning.
“What did you see?!” Flash hissed at Iara, lunging at her with his heavy forepaws. He glared at Iara furiously as she ducked down submissively. “You almost drowned in that river! I had to push you to shore!”
“I…I saw a tree!” Iara shut her eyes, terrified. “I saw a tree with flying avians around it!”
Flash relaxed a little, sitting up. He frowned, listening intently. “Go on. Your shadow, what was she?”
“She…was your species! You! But, female!”
“Ah, my visions were right!” Flash nodded, grinning slightly. “The avians…were all of them flying?”
“No…some were on branches…Flash?” Iara felt terrible for burdening her mentor. “Is..is what I saw…real?”
“Yes and no,” Flash cryptically remarked. He studied Iara, who was badly shaken from her adventures. Can you hear me, Iara?
Iara heard Flash’s voice, even though he was silent. She blinked. Yes.
“You have the gift of clairaudience,” Flash grunted, intrigued. “And clairvoyance. Interesting. Only shapeshifters have these gifts, but you…you are a warrior…”
“Maybe Ra and Wadjet…maybe they were wrong?” Iara tilted her head to the side, even more confused. She wished she hadn’t left her nest.
“They do not err,” Flash paced around Iara, wondering at her. “Some warriors have shown these gifts, it is rare, but it can happen.”
Iara felt the ground beneath her give way, and she suddenly felt heavy. She fell forward, her lids drooping. Flash gasped, catching her and hoisting her onto his shoulders. He sighed.
“Don’t die on me, littlest one!” he grunted. He carried her back to her nest, gently setting her into it.
“I’m not dead yet,” Iara huffed, her eyes rolling in sleep. Flash chuckled and padded back to his den, wondering if the Archaeopteryx clan had felt Iara’s presence.
“If what you saw is to come to pass…you have a long journey ahead, Warriorfeather.”