To Avoid War and to Find Love
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Two young Stryx wish to prove to the world that they can live on their own, find a mate, and defend a nest. Unfortunately, war is raging in a not-so-distant land and things aren't as simple as they once were. Tribute to Diaus.
James gazed down at the two young Stryx before him. His piercing blue eyes glinted with the first light of sunrise as he judged them. One was a fluffy corva, whose dark markings and base contrasted greatly to the splashes of white in his feathers. The other was a proud harpia with exotic patterns racing across an orange base. As he spread his wings now, the undersides were revealed to be black as night. To James they were both unimpressive, but then again they hadn’t had the chance to prove themselves worthy adults yet.
Although it wasn’t the first day that they would fly, it was the very day they would take those first steps to maturity. After all, both Belschnickle and Hallow were growing in their adult plumage. James knew that soon enough they would both be distracted by just about any and all females who struck their fancy. Already Hallow had begun to show interest in those who flew by the nest. James briefly took the moment to imagine their futures… hopefully they wouldn’t taste the bitters of war or see the blood that was being spilled just a few dozen miles away. They’d been orphaned from almost the moment they had hatched, and it was Jame’s duty to watch over them.
He turned his attention away from the younger birds to spread his wings. “Are you ready?” he asked his two students.
“Heck yeah!” Hallow said eagerly. His dark green eyes flashed beneath his brows and a smile crept over his beak. Belschnickle looked up at him too, then nodded firmly. Always the serious one, Bel remembered the most of his parents of the two. He’d seen the talons splashed with the blood of his parents… and he had barely spoken a word since.
“Alright! Angle your wings!” James called. “GO!” He shot forwards into the morning light, feeling the air beneath his wings take him higher and higher. Already the two younger Stryx were growing smaller in the distance. His speed was incredible, but he knew that his students could keep up.
Hallow was already growing larger as he drew near, his feathers like a column of fire in the wind. Belschnickle, however, was rapidly beating his wings in an effort to keep up. His breath came in heaving gasps as he struggled to catch hold of the same thermal his ‘family’ of sorts had found. He didn’t have the same knack at navigating them, and so he was fighting the air rather than riding it.
There was no time to wait, however, as today was the day to prove themselves. James would keep an eye on Bel, but wouldn’t so much as give him a moment’s rest to breathe. If he wished to prove himself strong enough to take a mate and raise chicks, then he would have to keep up. Speed was the name of today’s challenge.
The harpia’s wings, on the other hand, were nearly still as he let the thermal carry him upwards. He wasn’t gaining speed, but he was saving his energy for the later portions of this challenge. He briefly turned to look at his ‘brother’, furrowing his brows when he saw just how much the corva was struggling. He angled his wings to slow down, then lower, and came up beside and a little ahead of Belschnickle. “Uh… you okay, Bel?”
“Oh?” The corva pushed his wings down below his body to gain a burst of speed. In a split second, he was flying beside the harpia. “I’m fine.” Suddenly he was ahead of Hallow, seeming to regain steadiness. He was thrown upwards by the thermals, and was very soon chasing down James’ tail.
“Wha-” Hallow was stunned. The harpia was left hovering for a moment in disbelief. “Oh now you’re gonna get it!” he screeched to his brother once he realized he’d been duped. He frantically tried to catch up, but already he was eating the vortex of James and Belschnickle.
James laughed as he saw what happened, then ramped the challenge up a notch. They’d come to a deep canyon, where the airspace was far more constricted. The two younger birds were led into the gaping crag. Just as Hallow found himself wing to wing with Belschnickle, he was forced to fall back in order to avoid a spire of rock jutting out from the ground. His eyes went wide with horror as he barely avoided the collision, but his mind quickly regained its focus.
The big gryph leading them was taking tight turns with the rock, pulling his wings against his side to suddenly drop altitude before turning on a dime. It was incredible to watch, but Belschnickle was beginning to feel like he’d never catch up to his mentor. Despite all the fancy maneuvers, James was only increasing speed. The two younger Stryx were blazing across the sky as the river roared below, but neither compared to their older companion.
Hallow was beginning to get fed up with the situation. The space was too tight to maneuver around Bel in, and so he decided to take advantage of the vertical space provided. He wasn’t sure if James wanted either of them to go above the canyon walls, but he thought he may as well take advantage. Within seconds, the harpia was above Bel. Now that he had the ability to take a straight line rather than weave with the canyon’s restrictions, he gained speed. His wings pumped air backwards, propelling him forwards at a rapid pace.
Just as soon as he’d had the idea, he was ahead of Belsnickle and quickly gaining on James. A proud smirk stretched across his beak when he realized he was now flying over the large gryph. He couldn’t get any faster, but the canyon’s limitations were making James unable to do so either. In fact, the gryph was beginning to slow down as he ran out of the advantage he’d gained by his original dive.
The harpia decided now was his chance. With one final beat of his wings, he began his descent. Only seconds before his talons would hit Hallow’s shoulders did he abort the dive and scream out a victory cry. James was startled, having lost track of both Hallow and Belschnickle in his intense focus. The gryph twisted his neck and gazed up with wide, surprised eyes before the expression morphed into a smile. “Well done!” he exclaimed, now beginning to climb into the sky once more. Hallow rolled to the side to avoid the gryph’s wings. The joy and pride on his face were practically making him glow. He climbed with James before noticing that the brown corva wasn’t joining them.
“Hey Schnick!” Hallow called, diving back down beside his brother. He looked over at the corva with sparkling eyes, a wide grin plastered across his face. “Thought you could trick me!”
An annoyed grumble came from the other bird’s beak. “I did trick you. You just caught back up.”
“Easy, boys,” James warned. “You both proved you both have strength, speed, and intelligence. Belschnickle, that was an excellent tactic. I admit I was fooled as well.” He nodded towards a platform of rock now, shifting his direction in order to land on it. “Your speed could use work, but your agility is excellent.” Both younger birds landed now as well, their talons clicking against the stone. “Hallow, you thought out of the box. I appreciate the fact that you realized I’d never instructed you to stay inside the canyon. With that being said, you and I will need to work on your maneuverability. I would have liked to see you catch me without the need to fly higher.” His eyes shifted between the other two as he turned his body to face them. “You both did well today, but you’ll need more practice to avoid getting caught in a sticky situation. There is a war raging out there.”
“But we both did better than just about any Stryx our age would have in the past,” Belschnickle pointed out. “I thought that today was supposed to be our step into adulthood - not a training exercise.”
“That it was… but if you want to find a mate and raise chicks, then you’ll need to protect them from the war. There are people out there - soldiers - who will gladly capture you and force you to go to war with them. If you can’t avoid them, then your chicks may go hungry and your mate may move on. Life isn’t like what it was before.” He pinned both the corva and harpia in his gaze. “These aren’t the happy days they once were.”
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