Rebirth - Chapter 1

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Rebirth

by Areetala

Libraries: Fantasy, OriginalFiction

Published on / 1 Chapter(s) / 0 Review(s)

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Orion wakes to the life he's always led. He walks quietly so he doesn't wake his roommate. He takes a walk down the street and visits his favorite cafe. He prepares for another day doing work he enjoys. The fact that he has no memory beyond this day is probably not a big deal and definitely doesn't mean anything.

            When Orion woke, he felt like something was off. He’d been having a nightmare, or at least, he was pretty sure it was a nightmare. The moment he opened his eyes, he couldn’t remember anything, but the feeling that something was wrong lingered.

            His room was small and still felt too sterile for someone to live in. There was the single bed, a dresser, and nightstand and not much else. A painting of flowers hung on the wall. Pale curtains were drawn over the one window. What light came through suggested it was just barely sunrise.

            He got showered and dressed for the day as quietly as he could. Ren’s room was just across the hall, and unlike Orion, their definition of ‘early’ was any time before noon.

            The hall and kitchen were cold as Orion left the stillness of his room. The entire left wall beyond the bathroom was bare, leaving the kitchen open to the field beyond the porch. Outside, the sky was gray. The barest beginnings of golden rays were beginning to halo the distant mountains, but there was quite a bit of time before the day truly began.

            Why did all of this feel… wrong? He’d been living there for a while by then. He couldn’t remember how long, but long enough to not be unsettled by the openness of the kitchen or the vastness of the field outside.

            He thought about breakfast and then decided not to risk cooking himself. The guest house was old-fashioned, but the smoke alarm still worked, and Ren would have his head if he set it off again.

            As he stepped out the front door and carefully shut it behind him, Orion couldn’t help but reflect that he really needed to get his own place.

            The road was quiet. He was pretty sure he was the only morning person in the entire village, so it didn’t surprise him to see every window dark when he reached the crossroad. The main road led further into the village (too small to really be called a town) but there was nothing to do there. The very idea of wandering further west than the Workshop made his head fuzzy.

            The hill to his right led up to August and Agate’s place, but he highly doubted they would be awake either.

            Why did everything feel so dead? None of this should surprise him, and yet Orion felt like he was wandering through an alien world. The feathers on his tail bristled and he couldn’t get them to lie flat again.

            The light was on in the diner. Right. He wasn’t the only morning person after all.

            Orion pushed through the door, the bell jingling merrily in his wake. His claws clicked against the worn wooden floor and he kept his wings and tail close to avoid knocking things over. The air inside was warm and bright, life contained within the four walls.

            “Good morning,” Sage said from her place behind the cash register. It looked like she was in the process of making coffee and she didn’t look up from her task as Orion approached the front desk. “You want your usual?”

            “Sure,” Orion told her. He studied the menu while she finished the coffee she was making and then pulled another mug from the shelf. What was his regular? He couldn’t remember, and the menu didn’t feel familiar.

            “You can go take a seat,” Sage told him when she noticed his lingering. “I’ll bring it over to you.”

            “Alright. Thank you.”

            “Of course!”

            The café was more like a mix of a café, plant store, and library. Plants decorated every available horizontal surface and a few hung from the ceiling above the windows. There was a couch and pair of chairs that sat before a coffee table and fireplace. The far chair sat just before a tall bookshelf. More bookshelves were beyond that, and while none of the books were for sale, you could check one out for a while.

            Someone sat at one of the smaller tables beside the window. They were tall and thin and had only one huge green eye in the center of their face. They were typing something on the laptop before them and then paused when they noticed Orion’s presence.

            “Good morning, Orion,” they greeted.

            “Good morning, Mr. Enderson,” Orion replied almost automatically.

            “I’ve told you before that you can call me Lat,” they said, looking back to their laptop. “Why don’t you take a seat? I was sure I would be the only one here until Ghost decides to wake up.”

            Orion slowly took a seat. “Yeah? Is Ghost not a morning person?” That name felt entirely unknown to him.

            Lat looked back up over the edge of their laptop. “Oh, that’s right. You haven’t met him yet, right?”

            Orion shook his head. Actually, if he tried to think about it, he couldn’t remember meeting Lat either, or that they told him before to call them Lat.

            “He’s nice,” Lat said thoughtfully. “Nervous, though he tries to hide it. Very new, and he sticks pretty close to August or Agate, so it doesn’t surprise me that your paths haven’t yet crossed.”

            Orion nodded absently.

            To his right, Sage came over, a mug in both hands. One she set by Lat’s computer, the other she placed in front of Orion. “Your scone is heating up,” she told him. “I’ll bring it to you in a moment.”

            “Thank you,” Orion told her again, and then a thought crossed his mind. “Wait, I don’t think I have money…?”

            Sage chuckled and waved one hand dismissively. She was a kwell with the head of a plant with round leaves. Orion wasn’t sure where the sound came from. “You’re funny, Orion. Seriously though, if you keep insisting on paying, Aree’s not going to believe me when I tell them you’re not hitting on me.”

            “Just shooting my shot,” Orion joked. He wasn’t sure where it came from though. He wasn’t sure what she was talking about, but he did know who Aree was. He didn’t exactly want to cross them, especially over Sage.

            Sage didn’t seem to notice his concern as she turned and headed back to the register.

            “Are you feeling alright, Orion?” Lat asked. They sipped at their coffee and Orion wondered where the hell their mouth was.

            “I’m alright,” Orion said. He looked down at his own mug. It was some kind of tea that smelled very strongly of honey. He sipped warily at it. It was burning hot, not that he minded. It was good.

            “You look like you’ve had a terrible night’s sleep,” Lat said, not looking convinced.

            Did he sleep poorly? Orion wasn’t sure. “I think I had some weird dreams,” he admitted. He couldn’t remember anything, but the image of fire came to mind. Fire and something… else.

            “Dreams shouldn’t be taken lightly,” Lat told him. They looked up from their computer, suddenly serious despite their calm tone. “Especially not here, you know.”

            Not here? What did that mean?

            Still Orion believed him. “I can’t remember a damn thing, so it’s probably not too important. Nothing to worry about.”

            “Perhaps. Still, you have a few hours before you’re expected to be at the cliffside. Personally, if I had a full day of tributes ahead of me, I’d want a full night’s sleep beforeheand.”

            Tributes. Right. August had asked him to help out this time since he and Ghost had such a challenging time. Orion supposed it helped being a dragon himself.

            “I’m alright,” he said again. “Just an off day. It’ll be fine.” He took another sip of tea and looked around for something else to talk about. Outside, the sky was slowly growing paler. Gold and pink crept in ahead of the sun. “What are you writing?”

            “Keeping tabs on plants,” Lat said, mercifully taking the hint. “We got a new shipment in, and Sage is too busy making coffee and heating up scones to need to worry about it.”

            “That’s kind of you to help her.”

            “I mean, I work here too,” Lat said, amused. “She just does most of the heavy lifting.”

            Right. Orion was pretty sure Lat dealt more with numbers and reports, so they didn’t spend much time in the back. They just typed up reports, drank coffee, and occasionally supervised Sage’s more ambitious plant projects.

            Orion was saved from answering by a scone being placed in front of him. Steam curled off of it and dissipated in the air, bringing with it the smell of something sweet and cinnamon.

            The smell had Orion’s stomach growling and he realized he couldn’t remember what or when he’d last eaten. He wasted no time in tearing into the warm pastry. Sage had walked away before he could thank her anyway.

            Lat went back to his report and managed to block out the strange feeling he had for a while. However, then he was done stuffing his face and the feeling came back tenfold.

            When did this become his usual? Again, he’d been there for a while, so it made sense that he had a usual, but despite the café’s familiarity, he couldn’t remember the last time he was there.

            Outside, the sun continued to rise. Lat said he had a few hours, right?

            Orion gulped down the rest of his tea and then collected his dishes. “I think I’m going to head out early,” he decided. “Clear my head before I have to meet a couple of strangers.”

            “A good idea,” Lat said. “It was nice talking to you, and I hope you feel better this afternoon.”

            “I’m sure I will.”

            Orion returned his dishes to the front counter and said goodbye to Sage and then headed for the door.

            Outside, the air was cool and smelled of past rain. The sky was lighter, a pale blue where the rising sun’s rays didn’t quite reach. The places the sun did touch were turned to gold by the early light.

            The walk to the barn was just long enough for Orion’s thoughts to settle. The big wooden structure sat a few hundred yards from the guest house. It was big and dark and partially set into the hill behind it. Nothing stirred as Orion found his stall (a strange mix of a changing room stall and an animal stall) and tossed his clothes in the general direction of the bench that sat against the far wall.

            The cold air had him rethinking his decision, but the discomfort didn’t last long. Magic flowed through his lungs and chest, waring him from the inside out. Feathers burst into existence along the length of his body, his arms stretched out as wings.

            Transformation complete, Orion took a moment to just stand there and breathe. Everything else about his morning felt wrong, but this was still the same. This was still as familiar to him as breathing, and though there shouldn’t be any reason for it not to be, the thought gave him some comfort.

            Footsteps outside his stall. Claws scraped against the ground.

            Orion carefully shoved the door open and looked down to find a small owl-like dragon at his feet.

            She looked up at him as if she knew something he didn’t. Dark green eyes glinted in the half-light and Orion tried to remember if he’d ever seen her before. She would be hard to forget, her body resembling an owl while she had cat-like ears and tail and the small beginnings of antlers parted the feathers at the top of her head.

            The little dragon ran off back into the depths of the barn before Orion could actually find a way to ask.

            Alright, then.

            The air smelled different when Orion stepped back out into the field. As a dragon, he could smell how distant the rain was and the subtle hints of the grass recovering from the summer sun. The few bugs that braved the cooler temperatures were crawling back to the warmer nooks and crannies found around the hillside. A few hundred yards away, there was a lake. The last frogs of the night were splashing back into the water.

            Orion took off at a standstill, flapping his way up to one of the dragon-sized perches. From there, he could see more of the village, though the added height didn’t make it appear any clearer to him. It wasn’t the distance either.

            His head was starting to hurt. He needed to stop thinking.

            In the back of his mind, a familiar voice said it shouldn’t be hard for him.

            Sunlight was beginning to spill like liquid gold into the valley. Orion couldn’t recall the agreed-upon meet-up time but figured he should start moving.

            He returned to the sky, wings carrying him high up into the thin wispy clouds that reflected the pinks and golds of the morning.

            The valley receded below, turning into a comfortingly familiar checkerboard of fields and buildings. A few new paddocks were being sectioned off behind the barn and he wondered what they would be for.

            A thought came to him unbidden, and though he tried to go back to clearing his mind, Orion couldn’t help but wonder. Where was everyone? Was the sky really supposed to be so empty? It was like the world was waiting, holding its breath until something happened. Orion had no idea what that something might be, but it felt important.

            Like he was forgetting something. He was missing something.

            The air was cold as he cut through the sky, wings propelling him forward until all he could hear was the rush of wind. His eyes burned and his wingtips felt numb as he climbed higher. When the clouds faded behind him and the air grew too thin for comfort, he closed his eyes, folded his wings, and let himself fall.

            Falling. Falling. It made him think of something else. Someone else.

            They were falling.

            His eyes shot open to find the forest rushing up to meet him. His wings unfolded with a sharp snapping sound when the thin membranes caught the wind. Air pressed hard against their undersides as Orion’s descent slowed.

            Twiggy branches adorned with green and yellow leaves brushed his claws before receding as he returned to the upper sky once more.

            His head only felt a little bit more clear, but he needed to bury the feeling for the moment. The other two stryx would be waiting for him, and if he was to be a half-decent guide, he should probably have at least half his head in the game.

            The cliffs rose tall and pale, rays of sunrise lining them with gold and painting their face in shades of beige and rose. The sky beyond was steadily growing more blue. It was going to be a beautiful day. 

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