As I said at the beginning of the week I have been working hard on a new project. This has developed out of the final exam project for the University module I completed in the last academic year; a small idea that has grown and grown, this is its beginning.
A shout from one of her clan sisters brought her back to the moment. All the clans were coming together, flying south. She had never seen so many of her own kind before, eighty at least and more shapes appeared on the horizon all the time and slowly coalesced into the distinctive shape of more lizard birds.
Most were brown like her family. Some were grey, the winter sun glinting silver off of gleaming plumage, while others still appeared to sparkle an iridescent blue, light dripping on to their feathers like raindrops. While out front, leading them all, a white queen bird flew.
As her clan drew nearer the larger flock, Veetah felt a renewed strength spreading outward from within, even out to the tips of her wings. As if a sudden updraft now supported her, allowing her to ignore the ache in her tired wings, flight felt as effortless as in her dreams at night and Veetah was sure that it all emanated from the ancient Queen.
If the other birds felt as overwhelmed by the queen, then Veetah could see no outward sign, her clan sisters seemed just like she had always know them to be; but then they were older, as were most of the birds that Veetah saw. Veetah knew that her mother had seen twenty-five winters and was the youngest of the adults in the clan. But most birds Veetah could see she would guess were even older. And there were only seven crested males in the whole flock that Veetah could see and even less juvenile birds.
A break in the clouds afforded her a sight of the ground and she saw at last the desert she had been taught to fear. It still pushed relentlessly north and Veetah saw how it had consumed anything that stood in its path. The plain was littered with isolated fires and rising columns of smoke choked the air and turned the land grey. Of life she saw nothing, just the abandoned farmsteads and shattered ruins of where it had once been. Then in the midst of it all she saw colours like a vivid scar.
A strange aura appeared out of the gloom like a plume of smoke that alternated green, grey, red and yellow as it curled up into the sky from a strip of land that lay lower than the rest of the surrounding plain.
Veetah broke off from the formation and winged back to look closer at where the aura emanated from, besides the column of smoke she could see a pool of still water it’s mirrored surface reflecting the colours of the aura first emerald, then silver, then ruby and finally a lustrous gold before the cycle began again, but the colours weaker each time than the time before.
The Queen had not spoken Veetah had just felt the words and her shock at the contact was outweighed by her need to her obey the Queen and the even greater need to possess whatever she had seen on the ground. She called to her clan sisters as she broke from the formation and tucking her wings into her body, plunged down towards the earth below.
Wind rushed past her as she broke through the last of the cloud cover ever nearer to the aura that bent and twisted like a sapling buffeted by storm winds. Other birds followed her Veetah could hear the angry chatter as they jostled for position behind her.
All the birds sensed it now Veetah knew, not just the pulse that still beat raggedly; but the otherness. Veetah felt it was capable of hurling them all beyond the known world into oblivion but still they would risk it all to answer its irresistible call.
The ground approaching fast Veetah beat her wings repeatedly to slow her descent, while her clawed feet reached towards her ultimate target that lay on the ground beneath her. The draft of air from her wings caused a grey shroud to billow upward; Veetah caught a glimpse of what lay beneath, the body of a human, barely clothed, whose body lay at an unnatural angle in a pool of blood. The shroud floated back gently to the ground, covering the body, as Veetah landed besides it. It was clear to Veetah that the human was the source of the power she had felt and she lifted her head in triumph, shouting to the Cloud Menace clan that she had claimed the prize for them.
Two birds she did not know landed besides her and as she turned to face the nearer, a grey not much larger than herself, both birds threw their bodies against hers, in an attempt to crush her between them. Veetah called out in alarm and tried to spread her wings to force the birds away from her. The larger aggressor, the patterns on her feathers appearing like hundreds of threatening eyes to Veetah, seized her exposed left wing in her beak and tried to pull Veetah away from the shroud draped body. Veetah screamed as she heard and felt the snap of bones within her wing. The grey meanwhile was jumping up and flapping her wings while she aimed talons at Veetah’s head and body. Veetah tried to twist her exposed breast away from the slashing barbs but only succeeded in further tearing her delicate wing which was still clamped in the other bird’s powerful jaws.
Veetah called out desperate for some help. Veetah’s mother answered swooping low leading the clan to save her. She found herself released as the strangers turned to face the new threat.
Veetah’s mother landed on the larger of Veetah’s tormentors, a clawed foot pierced an eyeball and the bird giving an unintelligible screech and collapsed to the ground. The other bird had disappeared from Veetah’s view within a brown ring formed from the remaining birds of the Cloud Menace clan; Veetah watched in shock as a blizzard of grey feathers emerged, those she had known her whole life reduced to behaving like vultures descending on carrion.
More birds swooped in all the time now and she lost sight of her family. All were desperate to claim the prize and Veetah found herself pushed away. The larger birds came to dominate the area around the body and all Veetah could hear was the pitiful sound of birds in pain.
She feared her clan were dead or injured but ashamed as it made her she felt too afraid to rejoin the fight and could only watch as her species was torn apart in front of her eyes.
The Queen screamed out her disgust at the savagery, as she flew in out of the cloudy sky. The white ancient bombarded them with the images of what the lizard birds once were, what they should still be, if they acted as one.
The birds fell silent, shamed, as the queen came into land. An open space had opened up around the body while they waited for their queen.
The ancient her long neck hanging down, head drooping almost to touch the ground, was silent. Veetah waited, the ancient’s fatigue was a palpable presence, as ragged as the weak heartbeat of the human who was still beneath the shroud.
The Queen lifted her head wearily. All the birds turned to see where the queen looked. And Veetah saw that she looked at her.
The eyes of all her kind burned in to her, through feather and flesh, right into her soul as she began to slowly hop down the slope towards the queen. The others shuffled backwards to make a path for her, shrieking as they did so, but Veetah did not understand a word, their languages were as alien to her as the call of a crow. Only the Queen did Veetah understand and she would have flown so eager was she to respond to her, but Veetah could feel the wing that hung limply at her side was too badly damaged ever to fly again. Even the short journey walking between the massed ranks of birds had caused fresh blood to ooze forth from the wound.
The queen’s breath was rancid, up close Veetah could smell the decay that was consuming the ancient bird from the inside. Even her eyes were affected, the lens clouded a milky white. But Veetah sensed that there was another way of seeing. As if to confirm this, the Queen dipped her head and gently lifted the sheet away from the body at her feet with her beak.
Veetah looked at the body, the face covered in bruises, the woman’s left arm at an unnatural angle, with bone protruding through the skin; crushed beyond any chance of being used again just like her own wing. Veetah could see that if the human could they would have seen eye to eye.
GO FIND MATERIAL FOR A NEST, STICKS, STONES AND THE RIVER MUDS TO MAKE IT STRONG. SAVE HER.
A sound like thunder shook the air, Veetah watched as those that could still fly took off to respond to the command. Soon the site around the woman’s body was near deserted only the queen, Veetah and the battered remnant of the lizard bird’s own rage remained in the silence of the narrow valley. The Queen seemed unaware of it all though and concentrated on the body of the woman. Veetah watched as the Queen rested her beak against the woman’s ear and gave a sigh, the first vocal sound that she had heard the Queen make. Veetah didn’t understand the sounds but it reminded her of the sleep-song her own mother had sang at night to her, it seemed to be having a similar effect as the tension ebbed away from the woman’s face and body.
The Queen reached for the woman’s injured arm and took hold of it gently with her beak making the comforting sounds repeatedly in her throat. With a sudden jerk the Queen ripped the damaged arm from its socket, blood spurting from the wound as the woman sat up, eyes open, screaming, the sound reverberating across the lifeless plain, before collapsing back again.
The Queen turned and presented the limb to Veetah.
Veetah took the arm and began to eat, her body starting to shake as she consumed the flesh, a tremor becoming an earthquake within her, as she felt her senses reaching out tentatively for the rest of her kind. Some birds carried stones in their beaks; others clustered round a trickling waterfall on land now turning to desert; while others still ripped the branches off of dead trees.
Veetah felt the Queen at her side and telling her that Veetah would fly again but that the Queen would not, but she was not properly aware again until nightfall. All that remained living together on the plain, as they kept the vigil for their dead Queen. As they rested huddled together besides the woman who laid back beneath the shroud.
The vigil would be one night and then in the morning the lizard birds that remained alive would take to the wing and fly.
© 2014 | Frank Regan, All rights reserved.