Air Born

I looked up at the sky and shivered with anticipation. Tomorrow I would finally be allowed to spread my wings. I would be able to join the adults of the village and become a warrior; to take flight and defend my home. Just one more night until my eighteenth birthday when I would be an adult, until I would be allowed to actually fly- not just flying with my teachers or my mother. My entire life I’d been trained for this, just like my ancestors were, to fly high above the- “Sophia!” Mr Fintas, my teacher, barked, wrenching me back to reality.
“Um, yes,” I asked.
“Please join the rest of the class Sophia, no more daydreaming,” He gestured with his head to where the rest of my class was sparring. They were spread out in pairs each practicing offensive and defensive manoeuvres.
My sparring partner and best friend Tanya, who was the exact same age as me save for a few minutes, was standing alone impatiently tapping her foot at me. As I walked over to her she spread her jet-black wings and beat them, hovering several meters in the air. I too spread my (much more awesome) tan wings and flew to her. We didn’t waste time talking and immediately flew up; whoever was higher than the other had the upper hand. As we were still only fledglings we were not allowed to fly any higher than fifty meters and the school had a net to prevent students from doing so.
Once we were as high as we could be Tanya flew straight at me, forcing me to roll to the left to avoid a collision. As I was not ‘pure bred’ like the rest of my class, or in fact the rest of my village, I had a tail and cats ears instead of just wings like the rest of my race. I used my tail to hit her as she flew past. My tail clipped her wing and she freefell about twenty meters before correcting herself.
She was now at my mercy as I repeatedly dive-bombed her, each time pushing her lower and lower. When we were approximately 5 meters above the ground I slammed into her with all of my strength, causing her to plummet to the earth. She lay still for a few seconds after crashing and then unsteadily rose and lifted her hands to tell me that I had won.
“Good work Sophia,” Mr Fintas said from right behind me, causing me to jump. I could have sworn that he was on the other side of the field although apparently I was wrong. “Now please go and wait in the classroom for everyone else.” And with that he walked away to supervise the rest of the class and make sure no one got too carried away or something like that. Tanya and I walked to the class together, me helping her. We were the only people who had finished sparring already even though we had begun after everyone else.
“Please tell me how it is that even though I’m stronger than you and faster than you, every time we spar you always beat me.” Tanya asked.
“I don’t know,” I replied truthfully, “I guess I’m just smarter than you.”
“You? Smarter than me? As if,” Tanya scoffed and flipped her shoulder length black hair behind her shoulder. At that point other students began to file into the room in pairs. Half of the class were beaten, bruised and in some cases, bloody and the other half were grinning triumphantly. Mr Fintas walked in after everyone else had gotten in and immediately began the lesson.
“Okay everyone, take your seats. Now lots of you already know this, in fact I’d be worried if you didn’t. However, every year I get at least one kid who comes to me and tells me that they don’t know their basic history. Hands up who doesn’t know this stuff.” One person tentatively raised their hand and blushed bright red when they saw that they were the only one. Mr Fintas sighed. “See? I told you that there’d be at least one. Anyway, the aqua folk have their tails and fins and gills, the terra people have their hooves, scales, paws or tails and we have our wings. But why? Amelia, please tell us what you know.”
He pointed to a tall, tan girl with blonde hair and rust coloured wings sitting near the front of the room.
“Um, wasn’t it that scientists grafted the DNA of various animals into human DNA or something?”
“That is exactly it Amelia, thank you. It took many decades for the scientists to get the grafting right; many of the early hybrids were infertile, had health defects or died shortly after birth. Within several generations, though, the kinks had been worked out and there were more hybrids than humans and eventually the only humans left were highly religious people who saw these new breeds as abominations and fought to exterminate them. This led to many wars in which many people died. The remaining humans fled and have since then become extinct.
“After the war the remains of human cities were abandoned as the early generations of these new hybrids discovered that they were uninhabitable for them.
Soon the three main branches of the hybrids- the terra people, the aqua folk and us; the avian- began to break apart from each other. There were many, smaller wars between the terra people and both the aqua folk and the avian. The terra people drove us to the mountains and the aqua folk to deep within the oceans. If one who is not terra is found on terra land then they are enslaved or killed. The terra people have become a savage race.” Mr Fintas looked around. “Sophia? Would you be able to tell us about what happened to your mother?”
I shook my head. “It’s not my story to tell,” I said.
I knew what had happened. Nearly nineteen years ago Mum and Gran had gone out to one of the lower orchards on the mountain. Mum had been thirteen at the time. She’d wandered away from Gran, making daisy chains and picking flowers. On that same day four adolescents from Terra had decided that they would climb the mountain. They found my mother all alone and too far away from Gran to hear her when she screamed.
When Gran did find her she was unconscious, naked and bloody. For the next few months Mum was terrified by the smallest noises, by shadows and by men. At night she would wake up screaming. She barely ate and never spoke. When they discovered that my mother was pregnant it was too late for them to do anything about it.
That was why I had my tail and cat ears.
After school Tanya and I went to the park. There were lots of cliffs and hills and trees at the park where fledglings could practice their flight. Tanya and I went to the tallest cliff we could find and sat right at the top. We came here every day after school either to do homework, gossip or just chill. Tanya and I had known each other since we were fledglings in pre-school, just learning how to use our wings properly.
In our village fledglings started pre-school as soon as they had lost their baby down and were beginning to grow their flight feathers. In pre-school the most important thing that they were taught was how to fly. As soon as a fledgling had learnt that they went to primary school. They would stay in primary school until they were 13 and then they would choose what they wanted to do. Our high-schools each specialised in a different kind of education. When we were in primary school Tanya and I had decided that we wanted to be Guardians- warriors sworn to protect our village.
Tanya was the best friend I could ever wish for. Ever since we were little she hadn’t cared that I had the ears I did or a tail. She stood up for me when other kids bullied me. She was my idol and I looked up to her.
“The formal is next week,” Tanya said, “has anyone asked you to go with them?”
“No, no one has asked me. You know what they’re like about my tail and my ears” I shrugged nonchalantly. “What about you? I heard Aro wants to ask you,” I teased Tanya and she shoved me with her elbow. Aro was one of the stuck up rich boys. His father was one of three elders who kept the village in line and Aro had taken that to mean that he could get anything he wanted, whenever he wanted it. He was pretty good looking but had the worst personality ever. Tanya and I despised him.
“I was actually thinking of asking Mark, but I heard that he’s already got a date.” Tanya had always had a thing for Mark but I don’t think he even knew that she existed. She sighed sadly.
I couldn’t stand seeing her sad so I pushed her off the edge of the cliff.
She fell for a nanosecond before opening her wings and soaring back up to me. She was grinning like mad. “It’s on!” She yelled and swooped at me. I laughed and shrieked at the same time and leapt to the side, beating my wings to get further away and she narrowly missed me. I ran down the side of the cliff and into a grove of trees at the base of it, my wings half open but Tanya was right on my tail and tackled me to the ground where she pinned me down and began to tickle me. I squealed and thrashed but she was relentless. With a lot of effort I managed to ball my legs underneath her and push her off of me. Thankfully she gave up after that and we lay, panting, on the ground.
The sun was beginning to move behind the peak of the mountain and it was getting dark quickly. We sat up and I rested my head against Tanya’s shoulder. Tanya and I watched as the sun sank further below the horizon and the sky was painted with red and gold. The trees around us became saint-like with halos.
“I can’t wait until tomorrow,” I said. “Nor can I,” Tanya replied, “But I would appreciate it if this year you don’t climb onto my bed really early in the morning and wake me up.” I grinned into her shoulder as I remembered last year. “Don’t worry, I promise I won’t,” I replied. The sun had gone completely now; the sky was a deep purple and the first few stars were beginning to glint high above us.
“I should be going home now,” Tanya said reluctantly. “Yeah, I should too,” I echoed her reluctance. I hugged her tightly before climbing to my feet and holding my hand out to her. She grabbed my hand and I pulled her to her feet. “Goodnight, I’ll see you tomorrow,” Tanya said and we embraced again before reluctantly parting ways and trudging home.
I had difficulty falling asleep that night. I was too excited about my birthday tomorrow to even close my eyes however after several hours of restless tossing and turning I finally drifted off into a shallow slumber filled with bright, colourful dreams.
When I woke up, despite my lack of sleep, I felt refreshed and excited. I wasn’t worried about being alone in the house; every Saturday morning my Mum went to counselling, so, after doing my golden brown hair up in a ponytail and getting dressed- a simple halter neck top and jeans- I went over to Tanya’s house. It was only around the corner but, simply because I was allowed to now, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to fly there. I knew that she wouldn’t be awake yet; Tanya wasn’t really a morning person, so I stood outside her window and belted out my tone-deaf approximation of ‘Happy Birthday’ to wake her up. My terrible singing succeeded in waking her.
Her window opened and several books, a hairbrush and a pair of skinny jeans were thrown through it, at me. Tanya stuck her head out. “Go away! Have you seen what time it is? It’s only eleven,” She yelled out at me, “bug off!” I knew she wasn’t really mad at me; she had a grin on her face. She disappeared back into her room but returned after only a few seconds. “Can you pass me my pants? I kind of need them,” She asked me with a sheepish smile. I laughed at her and passed the jeans through the window to her.
Shortly afterwards she appeared in the doorway wearing a dark green tee shirt and the jeans which she had thrown at me. She held the door open for me and I bounded inside, grinning happily. “I didn’t climb on your bed this year, just like I promised,” I teased. She smiled, “I guess that’s true... Anyway, here’s your present. I really hope you like it.”
She had blown up a photo of the two of us and put it on a large, framed canvas.
She stood behind me and shrugged self-consciously. “I didn’t have time to wrap it, I’m afraid,” she said apologetically. I hugged her, “It’s alright, I don’t mind. I love it so much!”
I reached into my pocket and extracted my tightly wrapped bundle for Tanya. She eyed it curiously as I handed it to her. She turned it around in her hands a couple of times before expertly tearing the wrapping paper off of it. She beamed when she saw the tiny glass flower that I had bought for her. Its glass petals were reddish in colour and it was sitting on a small round mirror. She placed it carefully beside her and then leapt at me and hugged me fiercely. I laughed at her enthusiasm and hugged her back. “So,” I said, “Seeing as we are allowed to leave the village now-“
I didn’t manage to get any further than that before Tanya grabbed my arm and practically flew out of the house with me in tow. We exchanged an excited grin together before we lifted our wings in unison, leapt into the air and drove down with our wings, feeling them gather the air and lift us higher. Together we caught a thermal and let it carry us higher and higher above the village. It didn’t take long before we had flown higher than ever before and my heart raced with excitement. From all the way up here I could see for miles around. I shifted my position slightly and angled toward the east.
The mountain that our village was built on was not very high but it protected the village with sheer cliffs. There were rock walls that rose up sharply on three sides of the village but on the eastern side the mountain dropped away sharply. It was there that I was headed. Tanya followed me without hesitation and our wings carried us easily towards the edge of the mountain.
The ground dropped away from us suddenly and I wobbled slightly at the sudden change in the air. I had never flown with the ground so far below before. Tanya and I flew for hours, revelling in the sense of freedom.
After a while we looked at each other and suddenly Tanya grinned impishly. She tucked her wings in and shot towards the ground. I too pulled my wings against my body and plummeted after her. The wind tore my hair out of its ponytail and it streamed out behind me. Just before the ground and I collided, I whipped my wings out and swooped back into the sky. Tanya was just ahead of me, to my left. We barrel rolled in opposite directions. The air down here was thicker and it was somewhat easier to fly for some reason. As I came out of the roll I glimpsed a lake through a stand of trees nearby.
“Hey,” I called to Tanya, “Wanna go swimming?”
Without waiting for an answer I flew over the trees, above the lake. I circled it twice, flew in close, pulled my wings in tight and dove in.
I yelled with wild joy as I resurfaced and looked up in time to see Tanya dive in too. I waited for a while for Tanya to resurface. The water was deep and it was difficult to see very far below the surface. I looked around but I still couldn’t see Tanya. All of a sudden, something grabbed my ankle. I screamed. Tanya burst out of the water in front of me.
“You scared me half to death,” I shrieked indignantly at her. She grinned and laughed devilishly. I splashed her with my tail, making her squeal and hide behind her hands. Tanya peeked out from between her fingers and I splashed her again. She splashed water back at me and with her retaliation we began a fearsome splash war.
I emerged victorious when Tanya swam to the shore in surrender. I swam after her and we raced each other out of the water. She won that.
The lake was ringed thickly with tall deciduous trees and bushes and, once reaching the shore, Tanya and I walked through them until we came to a beautiful sunlit clearing. The ground was covered in soft-looking grass mixed with tiny, brilliantly coloured flowers which made it look like someone had scattered tiny jewels all over the ground.
I spread my wings slightly and shook my body, spraying water droplets all over Tanya.
“Ugh,” she said looking down at herself, “My clothes and wings are completely waterlogged. We won’t be able to fly home until they dry off.” She began to peel her shirt off.
“Wait, what are you doing?”
“Our clothes need to dry and they won’t do that as fast if we’re wearing them,” Tanya stated, matter-of-fact and continued to strip. “Oh,” I said meekly. I eventually also stripped down to my underwear. Tanya and I hung our clothes from the branches of the trees nearby and then lay on our bellies in the sun like the skinks that lived on the rocks in and around our village. As we lay there I surreptitiously compared Tanya to myself out of the corner of my eye.
She was slimmer than me and taller. Our hair was about the same length; just past our shoulders, however her hair was jet black whereas mine was a kind of sandy brown-blonde. My feathers and my eyes were a very similar colour to my hair- Tanya’s feathers were black but had a blue sheen to them in the sunlight and her eyes were bright green. I also had a tail and cat ears.
I swished my tail softly. The fur on it was a lighter shade than my hair. My tail was also tipped with long tail-feathers which were darker than my wing feathers. My ears were the same colour as my tail and were also tipped with feathers, only the feathers on my ears were small and downy and black.
I stopped comparing myself to Tanya. Instead, I simply stretched out and enjoyed the sunlight. I slowly began to doze off.
Gradually I became aware of a sound like someone laughing.
I sat up and tapped Tanya’s shoulder. “Wha-,” she began but I clamped my hand over her mouth. “Shh,” I whispered at her. I held my hand over her mouth for a while longer before slowly taking it away.
“What is it?” she whispered once my hand was gone.
“I thought I heard someone laughing,” I whispered back, pricking my ears and listening carefully. There. I could faintly hear people laughing beyond the trees. I crouched and slowly moved forwards. Tanya’s hand on my shoulder prevented me from going any further.
“What are you doing,” She hissed anxiously at me. I turned back to look at her. “I want to see who it is,” I said slowly. She narrowed her eyes at me, “Sophia, we’re on terra land. Don’t you remember what Mr Fintas was telling us in class yesterday? And surely you’re not planning on running off like that; you’re only wearing your underwear. We’d be safer if we just grabbed our clothes and flew away,” An edge of panic had begun to creep into her voice. Her face was pale and her feathers were ruffled.
I tapped Tanya’s wing with my tail. “Don’t worry,” I tried my best to sound soothing and sure of myself, “I only want to look. I promise I’ll be careful.”
Tanya frowned at me sceptically but her hand on my shoulder relaxed slightly and I used the opportunity to scoot forward. I edged behind a bush that was just big enough to hide me and peered through the branches.
There was a large splash to my right which made me jump. I slowly turned to look and what I saw made me freeze. There were two people in the lake.
I could tell from first glance that they were not terra; they each had a fin running down their backs and when one of them, a male, leapt out of the water to impress his companion, a female, I saw that he had a long, scaled, sinuous tail. It gleamed brilliantly in the sunlight for the brief moment that I saw it. The woman laughed, it sounded like the stream that ran next to the village. I caught a glimpse of sharp, white teeth as the man grinned at her. He held his hand out to her. The woman tucked her hair behind her ear and I saw that she had a row of gills down her neck. She then smiled coyly at the man and took his hand. He pulled her in close and they began to drift waltz-like slowly through the water. The man leaned in close and whispered in the woman’s ear. She laughed again and then kissed him.
I turned away then.
I was fascinated by them. I had never seen anyone who wasn’t avian before and the aqua folk were considered the most reclusive and alien of all the hybrids. I felt more than slightly awed and at the same time kind of envious. I wondered what it would be like to have someone love you like that.
I scuttled back to Tanya. She had her clothes back on and was holding mine.
“Okay, you’ve had your look. Can you please get dressed so we can go now,” She thrust my clothes at me and I pulled them on.
I grinned at her and swished my tail, “I’ll race you back!”
Leaping into the air I thrust my wings down, narrowly missing Tanya who leapt to the side just in time. I beat my wings again so that I was hovering just above Tanya’s head. She rolled her eyes at me, spread her wings and took off. Neither of us gained height as quickly as we normally would because our wings and our clothes were still damp and weighed us down. We had to beat our wings much more than usual and we were both panting with effort by the time we finally caught a thermal.
Grateful for the rest that the thermal offered I stopped beating my wings and let the warm air lift me higher. “Are you still racing me?” Tanya asked casually as she soared above me. I shook my head up at her, “No, not anymore.” Tanya smiled languidly and floated gracefully down. She pulled up next to me and we coasted slowly side by side.
It was a beautiful day- there wasn’t a cloud in sight- and I stretched my legs out, enjoying the feel of the sun on my back. I felt I could happily glide like this forever. Looking down I could see sporadic stretches of forest interspersed with grassland and scrub. Out of the corner of my eye I caught a flash of movement and a glimpse of red.
I flew in closer for a better look but I didn’t see anything unusual. I flew back up to Tanya.
“Did you see anything down there?” I asked. Tanya peered down at me, “Hmm? Like what?”
I shook my head, “No, don’t worry. It was probably nothing.”
She shrugged and turned away. I looked down again but there was still nothing suspicious.
I shivered slightly and glanced up.
The sky, which mere minutes ago was pristine and clear, was now beginning to fill with heavy, black clouds. The temperature was dropping rapidly. I sniffed the air. It was laced with the cold, somehow metallic scent which made my mind scream one word; snow.

The End

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