10553 Helagnus | Training
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Basic training for DS10553 Helagnus. Mentions group stryx DS002 Grym. (Reuploaded from DA to be counted for AP. Modified from its original version.) || https://www.deviantart.com/eyeofgalyx/art/Helagnus-10553-767972750 || https://www.deviantart.com/eyeofgalyx/art/Grym-002-527592627
Chapter 1, Trust
She remembered her hatching. Not keenly, not in terms of shapes and words, but as a glut of sensations and emotions that haunted the back of her mind forever after. She remembered it well, for whenever she looked back on it in her years to come, the memory curdled her heart where it beat in her chest.
Helagnus hatched slowly, not because it was a great effort, but because of an unknown premonition that weighed on her as soon as her mind first woke to the howling of instinct that told her to kick and peck. She hatched slowly, but inevitably. Her safe shell fell away and revealed the world, piece by piece, and when her shell was all but demolished she found herself picked up and held by a great warm presence which cooed and burbled. An utterly alien presence.
The figure was unlike her in every way. It was small, with smooth skin that lacked the softness of feathers. It had no beak, and fed her with meat mashed between mortar and pestle instead. It had no wings, and wrapped her shivering little body in a scratchy blanket instead of down. It had no talons, and picked her up in smooth fingers and cuddled her in midair. The figure murmured sweetly almost all the time, crooning, praising, happy to meet her at last. Helagnus came to understand that her new existence was very exciting.
This figure was an omnipresent feature of Helagnus' world. In fact, it was the main feature. Her world was a box. Dark wooden walls formed the boundaries, and windows too high overhead to see out of let in vivid golden light during the day. Helagnus futilely tried to hide from the sunlight as she napped, making burrows in the straw and curling into a grumbling ball of down as the figure tried to encourage her to come back out and play.
Those wooden walls were too high to see over, and so the hatchling could count out the few features of the whole universe on her talons: wood, straw, sunlight, mashed-meat, scratchy-blanket, and the figure – which she would soon learn was the woman, who differed from the man. The woman was her mother: the bedrock of her world.
The corva's first steps came in a few days. The woman, for whom she would never learn a name (when does a rider bother to introduce their name to a wordless mount?) remained close all the time, always touching and petting and singing with joy. Helagnus grew, full and safe and happy. Loved. She wobbled around her small wood-walled world, and each faltering stumble was greeted with enthusiastic acclimation in a voice that was too bizarre to be any stryx's.
It took a week and a half for the new hatchling to grow her first feathers. By then, Helagnus loved the woman blindly, knew that voice in her sleep, trusted that hand without needing a reason. She forgot the ominous dread of her hatching, for a time. Those first bizarre memories of biting cold and alien skin grew so dim she might never have recalled them again.
Her first feathers grew in as itching pins, and once sprouted they shed their pale outer layer to reveal dull orange. The color was insignificant to her, but the figure, the woman, her mother, her world, went silent. It was eerie, this silence, void of coos and burbles. The woman spent an eternity just staring, lightly running fingertips along the new feathers, while Helagnus waited, uneasiness growing.
The woman left.
She had left before, and Helagnus remembered being alone now and again. But minutes stretched into hours, and Helagnus slept with the sun and woke the next night and the woman had not returned.
Helagnus grew uneasy.
Stumbling turned to slowly walking, circling the boundaries of the universe, occasionally stopping to peck at the wooden walls that were hiding her mother in the unknown sun-plagued void that was outside. Without the woman there came no food, no petting, no cooing. Her whole world was wood, straw, and the woman, and wood and straw were worthless compared to a mother.
Where? Where had she gone? Why?
Her distress grew as the sun rose yet again, until the exhaustion and the pain in her eyes at the brightness made her burrow into the straw once more. She slept fitfully. She was hungry and she was lonely. She had never known loneliness before. It took one day for her to decide she hated it.
In the evening, before the light quite faded, someone opened the wooden walls of the universe the way the woman could, and entered. This figure was so like the woman that at first sleepy glimpse she burst out of her burrow of straw and ran towards them in glee. Helagnus ran so quickly she tripped and rolled right out of the universe and into the unknown, and she knew it instantly because there was no straw beneath her talons as she struggled upright. She staggered, briefly stymied – she saw a thousand new things, cobblestones and doorways and rafters and across it all through great windows in the wooden walls came the dimming red light of a dying evening. She was too upset to remain sleepy now – but the figure –!
But they were not, they weren't – they picked her up with a great rumbling sigh and the voice and the alien skin were the same, but grotesquely different. This was the man. The voice rose in a shout when she struggled, digging her tiny talons into flesh that was not her mother's. The arms shifted, one hand wrapped tight around both her ankles, and the universe careened madly. She froze, trapped, upside down – not pacified as much as horrified. Her barely-feathered wings twitched, but she was too confused and frightened to struggle.
And so for the first time Helagnus saw beyond the wooden walls, held upside down in a man's grumbling grip like a hen chosen for slaughter. She didn't see much, too occupied with the intensely uncomfortable position – or else she would've been incredibly disappointed to find only more walls. The straw she knew became an unfamiliar cobblestone courtyard, ringed by even taller wooden walls. The man carried her into a structure that was made of more wooden walls, taller still, and with shiny squares of glass set in them instead of bare holes like all the windows she'd seen so far. The man moved the wood, as only the figures could, and inside, she saw... mostly more wood. A few shiny objects, but not even straw to soften the wooden floor.
There was a wooden table inside, coated in papers and alien tools, and at this table sat the woman, her mother, the heart of her whole world. Helagnus squawked, overjoyed to see her again at last. She'd gone a quarter of her short life without her mother, but finally, her world was whole again.
The figure, the woman, her mother, her world, spoke dismissively. The voice that had laid the foundations of her existence came out hard-edged and awful. And that made everything awful.
"Sand. I've no use for sand. She fits in nowhere in the program, and you know it. Why are you bothering me?"
"For a week and a half I could barely get you to leave her to eat, and now because she's a few shades lighter than perfect, you're leaving her to starve in her stall? I expected better –"
The woman slammed down on the table and shouted, "Don't lecture me! I'm the only one in this excuse for an aviary who knows what she's doing! Your lackadaisical, sentimental efforts might've worked until now, but we need to see the bigger picture. And this hatchling, despite my greatest hopes, does not have a place in it. What, exactly, is that common chicken going to bring home? 'Best Young Dustpuff'?"
Helagnus shivered. The words were lost on her, but the hostility was not.
Her mother... refused her?
There was a long, heavy, dismal silence, and then the man turned and walked away. Briskly. And slammed the door behind him as the woman imparted a few final vitriol-laced words.
The man heaved another great heavy sigh, standing outside in the dark with a fledgling still awkwardly frozen upside-down in his hand. After a moment he set her down, gently, and released her legs at last. She flipped over after some effort, and staggered upright, and found herself awake. The evening had died, and it was Helagnus' hour now. Crickets chirped in the dark. The moonlight was a gentle aid to Helagnus' sharp eyes. For the first time she saw more of her home (standing properly upright anyway), and it disappointed her.
Stars twinkled high above, obscured by nothing. Outside the wooden walls of the aviary which had contained her whole known universe up to now, big enough to hold twenty stryx at least, were yet more wooden walls, which ringed the aviary and the thin house in which her mother was hiding from her, not wanting her. Who would not come, and Helagnus did not understand why.
The courtyard was an expanse of flat empty cobblestone, with some grass and a few brick-ringed bushes as the only decoration. All was dark and still. There was not even a breeze to stir the blooms in the bushes. The flowers that had forged a living in the grassy patches were locked shut, asleep and waiting for the sun to return.
The night was very much the wrong time for this place.
The man was looking at her, and Helagnus looked up at him. She did not know what he was looking at – her alert state, her orange feathers. A hatchling which the man knew had no place in the woman's purified aviary. Theirs was a place intended for soils and noxes, for sleek dark diurnal birds, for creatures trained to have grace and docility and showmanship above all else.
"It wasn't always like this," he mumbled, disappointed.
After a moment, he heaved another sigh, one which sounded even more exhausted than the last. "Have a run about then, little one," he said, tiredly. "You'll be fine out here for a minute. I've some... things to get in order."
The man walked away, leaving her to stand and shiver. She did not follow him. The woman, her mother, her world, refused to return – If she followed the man, so similar to the woman, would he turn on her the same way?
She couldn't bear the loneliness, but she could even less bear being rejected a second time.
Helagnus stumbled towards the outer wall, and found it as solid and unyielding as every other wall. Beyond this would there be even more? Was the universe just an endless maze of wood? She suddenly squawked and stumbled back – against these wooden walls, where the open night sky hung far above, were the final clinging drifts of snow. Helagnus did not know what snow was, but it was bitterly cold, and she recoiled and pulled her little talons out of it.
The woman had been her world, but now the woman wasn't there anymore, and the world was. If the world was only made of walls and filled with figures who always left her, it must be an awful world.
The hatchling slumped down, exposed in the wide courtyard, empty. She closed her eyes for a long moment.
When she opened them, something new was next to her. She jumped and squawked, alarmed – it looked nothing like the figures at all. It had feathers and a beak and wings and talons. It was black as the night around them and silent as the wooden walls. It looked like her.
It moved, turning a regal head marked with pale frost, and gazed down at her with orange eyes. "Little one," he spoke, in a voice fair and cold as ice, "who would've been lucky if she weren't too late. I am Grym."
She was quiet a long while, staring in awe at the great beast, so unlike the figures that were all she knew. But she squinted at him in doubt.
"Lucky?" she asked. "It hurts. I hurt inside. I'm lonely."
Grym was silent, and Helagnus could not read his expression. His face was foreign to her. She didn't even know the woman's face as much as the woman's voice... the voice which had sounded so vengefully violent. So inexplicably angry, for a reason she didn't understand.
The woman, the man, and Grym. The first had abandoned her, the second was too similar to trust, and that left Grym, who was... very different. Not a figure. Not yet a certain thing. She tilted her head. "You will leave too?"
Grym studied her, and plucked his words with precision Helagnus could hardly detect. "And return."
"But I need..." She trailed away, unsure what it was she wanted to say.
"There is more beyond these walls," Grym mentioned.
"I want to see it," she said, instantly. From one sentence, for the first time in her short life, the universe became bigger than what she herself knew – there was now what Grym knew, and he knew more. More beyond the walls.
More beyond the shattered remains of the little world the woman had lovingly crafted around her, then spitefully abandoned.
"You will," said Grym. "But you must grow first. You'll be safe here."
"I don't like it here," she grumbled.
"You'd like it less being eaten by a wolf. Small as you are."
"What's a wolf?"
Grym stood and spread his star-tipped wings, a dark silhouette barely visible against a dark sky. The weak light from the windows of the house sank into the shadow of his feathers and was devoured. "Great beasts," he said, darkly. "With wiry, patchy fur, voices like thunder, and teeth that break bones."
He folded his wings and sat again, and Helagnus gawked. For the first time she imagined what she had never seen – wolves became monsters in her mind, slavering just outside the walls, waiting to scoop her up like the woman had, but to gnaw her outsides as the woman had gnawed her insides. She trembled.
"Are your legs strong, to leap these walls, to outrun wolves, to climb and to fight?" asked Grym, in a way that was amused, but not teasing.
Helagnus looked down and didn't answer.
"They will be," he promised.
The fledgling looked up, and her gaze was more critical than a baby's gaze had any right to be. How could she know? What guarantee was there that he wouldn't reject her like the woman had? Wouldn't suddenly come to loathe her without warning or explanation?
Grym's voice was utterly neutral. He did not speak in a way that suggested he cared about her at all, but he also didn't sound furious, like the woman, or pitying, like the man. Helagnus wasn't certain how she felt about that. She had known Grym for all of five minutes, and already she felt as though their interaction was a light, superficial thing, ready to drift away on the next breeze. The only question was: when would the breeze carry Grym away from her too?
"I will bring you something," he said. "Tomorrow."
She was about to ask what, when, and how – when abruptly he spread his dark wings and was gone in a flurry of feathers. A second later, the door of the aviary across the courtyard opened – the man had returned, and he was holding the round bowl which Helagnus recognized as food. Hunger outweighed her suspicion, and she followed the man back to her box, which was no longer the whole universe, but infinitely tinier.
The woman was not there, but the world rolled on. She ate. She accepted the man's ruffling of her feathers, without feeling affection for him. She slept with the dawn, fitful and frowning.
But when she rose from her bed of straw the night after, she found something new. A strange object, like wood, but with weak ridges she found she could pick to pieces with her talons. When the man came later in the night to check her, he was stumped as to how on earth the hatchling had gotten a pinecone to kill so thoroughly all across her stall floor.
The pinecone was important. The pinecone was a promise of something new – it would not be like the woman's constant cooing. That much was clear. But Grym had made no pretense that it'd be the same. He'd been honest to her, that he would leave, but that he would bring her something. This was a promise she could shred in her talons. He'd been honest. Honesty was something she could abide trusting.
From now on, there would always be a price. Helagnus would never trust blindly again.
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