Huzzah! Took me long enough but I finally found a story arc that I want to pursue (again mind you and hopefully this one won’t fall apart at the first sign of resistance) and have officially started my word count in NaNoWriMo (weighing in at 2659 at this point in time)! My synopsis and excerpt are pending but I’ll at least introduce you to what I’ve got so far!
Meet Keeta Wind Dancer, a fledgling Raptorian who is one year shy of being a full-fledged adult. Standing at 5’2″ and coming in at 76 pounds, she is just over the average height of the females of her race. Crowned with short, beige colored hair and sporting yellow eyes, like all Raptorians, she has a nice set of mottled brown wings, and a lean figure that leaves at least a little bit to be desired. Decent with a sword, capable with a bow and absolutely abysmal with the javelin or spear, her real strength lies in flying and aerial acrobatics. At present, she and three of her best friends are on track to become Talons in Home Eyrie, a role that is most oft associated with patrols of their borders and playing guard to visiting guests or merchants.
With the Centennial Day of Awakening fast approaching, Keeta is excited like the rest of her race, though she is slightly skeptical of the unusual increase of active Talons in the home. The Day of Awakening is an annual ceremony that normally gets very little additional attention as the Head Priest prepares to awaken the Hierarchs sequestered in the innermost sanctum of the tree, making their wisdom and divine connection to their patron deity available to the general public. All across the world of Faew, the other three races and the halfbreed nation are preparing just as they are, oblivious to the significance of the Centennial celebration.
Ignorance will do nothing to protect Keeta after the Day of Awakening and it will take more than her combat or aerial skills to get her through what the gods have in store for her.
The ground rushed up to meet her in what was quickly becoming a common and wholly unwelcome occurrence as Keeta desperately tried to curb her fall, balling up without the aid of her pinioned wings to catch her. That still didn’t keep it from hurting when her right side caught the brunt of the impact, jarring her body and nearly dislodging the wooden practice sword in her hands. “Ugh…” she groaned, placing her left hand on the hard wood surface before turning her deep yellow eyes to glare at her opponent.
“Frayed feathers wind dancer,” the older woman growled, expression tense as she twirled the lengthy, flexible sword in her left hand. “How many times do I have to tell you, you can’t always rely on your wings, Keeta?!” Hard, golden eyes peered at her from an angular face framed by the ebony strands of short cropped hair, wings conspicuously missing on her lean, muscled frame.
Keeta bit back the retort on the tip of her tongue when she heard her peers snickering at her from the sidelines, all traces of amusement wiped clean the moment she turned to eye her spectators. Taking a steadying breath, she flicked her short beige bangs off her forehead and clambered back to her feet, ruffling her feathers under the restricting bindings holding her mottled brown wings in place. “They’ve worked up til now,” she grumbled finally in a slightly petulant tone, ducking her head against the resultant glower.
“Not good enough,” her instructor spat, closing the distance swiftly, bringing the sword to bear almost before Keeta could go on the defensive.
“Yah!” she shrieked, almost clumsily bringing her guard up, back stepping even as her wings strained against their bindings. Her arms vibrated with each strike against her weapon and she grit her teeth, focusing on defending before the damn blade hit her again. She had more than enough bruises for one day already.
Obviously frustrated with her, the older woman’s face tightened before she changed her tactics, pushing Keeta off balance with a well-timed shove, charging after the floundering woman relentlessly. “You can’t just defend, wind dancer,” she warned, scoring a glancing blow on Keeta’s side, sending the young woman retreating hastily.
“Ow!” Keeta grimaced, feeling her face flush at the treatment. Another glancing blow nearly made her left arm numb upon impact and she finally hissed, “Just because you lost your wings doesn’t mean you have to take it out on me!” Pain exploded along the right side of her face, hot and angry, rendering her nearly senseless as her weapon dropped from unresponsive fingers and Keeta stumbled to the side, crumpling on the hard surface limply. When she could finally see through the unbidden tears that swarmed her vision, she realized Tikara was standing over her, the tip of her sword resting just under her chin, expression like stone.
“Get up,” she stated firmly, voice brooking no argument as she shifted the sword enough for her target to do so.
With one hand pressed to the side of her face, Keeta painfully got to her feet, leaving the sword where it had fallen, eyes glued to the floor. Her cheek throbbed mercilessly but even that wasn’t enough to distract her from the fact that her face was flaming red and all eyes were locked on her in the oppressive silence. “Talon Tik-“ she flinched again but managed not to cry out when the wooden sword smacked her sharply across her bare left arm, hitting the dark pair of wings tattooed on her upper bicep.
“Not a word, fledgling,” she warned in a very quiet voice, the tone held in tight control. Keeta swallowed harshly with her head still bowed and nodded once. “Lekar! Atisa!” she barked and Keeta became aware of two sets of feet rushing over to her side.
“Talon Master?” they asked simultaneously, voices soft and respectful.
“Take fledging Keeta to the Nest. Have Malakir look at her and then come back to see me,” Tikara instructed, dismissing them all with an abrupt wave, ignoring them entirely while she turned to address the remaining fledglings. “Etrican! To the center!” she snapped, twirling her sword as she walked, wingless back ramrod straight and tense.
With the focus of that powerful gaze finally off her, Keeta glanced to either side of her and looked into the faces of her cringing friends. “I didn’t mean to say that,” she murmured pitifully, face finally cooling off with tears drying on her cheeks.
“Keeta,” Atisa sighed with a shake of her head, tightly plaited, light brown hair swaying behind her. Her pale yellow eyes peered down at the slightly shorter woman in annoyance.
“Come on then,” Lekar chuckled once, one hand undoing the bindings on Keeta’s wings, making her sag with relief when the pressure was alleviated on her shoulders, allowing her appendages to rest naturally against her back. “That tongue of yours has a knack for getting you into trouble, you know that?” he murmured, guiding her along with a hand against the middle of her back, resting over her wings.
“You don’t say?” she quipped, sparing him a sideways glance to get a look at his aquiline profile, equally yellow eyes looking at her with a similar expression. A thin layer of mostly shorn, dark brown hair matched well with the color of his folded wings, his lean build hidden mostly beneath the layers of practice clothes they all wore.
“Seriously, Keeta,” Atisa chimed in again, shoving her right shoulder, dark gray wings ruffling agitatedly as they guided their wayward friend from the practice yard under the watchful eyes of the patrolling Talons and Talons-in-training.
In silence, the trio descended the carved stairs of the petrified tree known as Home Eyrie, descending to the next level between the practice yard and the residential district. Filled with stores and general services stations, they bypassed many fellow Raptorians who looked askance at the trio, gazes lingering on Keeta with her hand still over her cheek, but none bothered to stop them. They were still in their practice garb after all and the only reason for them to be away from the yard was because they’d been sent…
The Nest was nothing particularly special, sequestered amidst the other buildings of its like, it was paired with a medicinal supply shop and a general used goods store on the other side. Her head hung in shame, Keeta grudgingly allowed herself to be pushed in first, glancing up at the fledgling minding the front who gave her a quick once over and then rolled her eyes, brushing a long strand of reddish brown hair over her shoulder. “Again?” she grumbled, placing her hands on her hips in irritation, her mouth twisting to the side in a slightly grimace.
“Vitria,” Keeta mumbled, looking to either side for assistance from either of her friends.
“Don’t drag us into this,” Lekar laughed, holding up his hands in immediate surrender.
Atisa at least stepped forward to look at the younger woman across the counter, “Is Malakir in?”
“Of course he’s in. Where else would he be?” Vitria snorted, eyes twinkling in merriment as she regarded Keeta again. “Though why he bothers to keep treating you is beyond me.”
“Hey!” Keeta defended herself, taking a partial step forward. “It’s been over two months since my last visit.”
“And that’s a miracle,” Vitria laughed, amused when the older woman floundered for a response. “Just hold your non-existent tail feathers and I’ll see if the old man’s available,” she assured the group, ruffling a pair of speckled dark brown wings as she disappeared into the back.
“You know. We should really stop making it a habit to come here so often,” Lekar stated with a nudge to the shorter woman’s shoulder, narrowly avoiding the still smarting bruise forming under her tattoo.
“It’s not like I asked you to come,” Keeta murmured, shoulders slumping when even she was guilty enough to admit they were sent because they were her friends, yes, but they would also make sure she did exactly as instructed.
“No, but you’d rather have us brave Tikara?” Atisa teased, brushing the backs of her fingers against the prominent wing ridge in a fond gesture.
“Of course not!” Keeta gasped, relaxing marginally when she realized a feather too late her friend was messing with her again. “I really didn’t mean to say that about her,” she tried again, glancing between the taller individuals.
“We know that.”
“And she does too,” Lekar reminded her gently, slinging an arm over her shoulders, resting easily in the space between her wings and her neck. “But she can’t exactly let something like that go by without some sort of punishment.”
“Yeah…” Keeta exhaled, still rubbing her cheek, running her tongue over her teeth inside her mouth experimentally. Nothing had been knocked loose that she could tell but her jaw felt like stone and she knew it was going to ache for marks later.
None of them begrudged Tikara and the loss of her wings, but she certainly seemed to take a very heavy hand with the wind dancers in particular when they were in the training field. When she’d lost the one in a skirmish with the diggers, they’d all been just as surprised when she opted to remain a Talon, earning the position of Talon Master in a matter of years. There was no Raptorian who was better with a sword or quicker on her feet than she was, and they all knew as much, never mind she was fast approaching the age of an elder. But she definitely didn’t pull her punches, or strikes in general, when it came to training and she had a particularly hard streak against the more skilled aerial acrobats of their race.
Quiet commotion behind the fall of the curtain hiding the front from the work room in the back drew Keeta from her silent musing, hand coming up to grab Lekar’s for a measure of comfort. He gave her hand a squeeze in return and she took a breath, waiting for their resident healer to take a look at her…
“Keeta’s here again?” they heard the deep voice rumble, a hint of mirth tingeing his tone.
“Yep. Nest Master,” came the hurried, slightly belated response.
“Ayah! What am I going to do with you, fledgling?” the older male asked when he bustled into the front room, curly, tan locks coiled close to his scalp, a broad grin plastered to a face that was lined with too many wrinkles and dancing yellow eyes that nearly disappeared with the expression.
“Patch me up?” she offered a weak smile and shrugged.
“Hah! As if you deserve it,” he winked, waving her around to the back. “Shoo, shoo!” he fluttered his hands at her companions with a slight frown. “You know the drill. Keep Vitria out of trouble, will you?” he commented instead, looking over at his assistant who was almost as tall as he was; really only an inch taller than Keeta.
“Aye, Nest Master!” they chimed in unison, giving him a sharp salute as the aforementioned Vitria pouted, arms crossed over her chest.
“There’re my Talons-in-training,” he pointed, nudging Keeta to get her moving.
She nibbled her bottom lip nervously and wandered into the back. After all the times she’d been here, one would think she’d be used to the place by now but she always felt edgy in the Nest Ward. It made her think of being bedridden or forbidden from flying and the thought made her shudder. A tug on her right wrist made her jump in surprise and then Malakir was pulling her hand from her cheek.
“You mentioned her wings didn’t ya?” he asked, prodding lightly at the already bruising flesh, expression tense and professional. Keeta remained silent, letting that be her answer since he’d pick up on the response well enough, though she winced when he pressed harder than she figured was necessary. “That’s going to bruise like you won’t believe,” he snorted with a shake of his head, shuffling around in front of her to get a straight on view, face cringing when he noticed the swelling that was already taking over on the one side.
“I didn’t mean to,” she mumbled in her defense, tilting her head to the side to partially hide her bad side before gentle but firm fingers grabbed her chin and made her look straight ahead again. “But she wouldn’t let me use my wings and I swear she was out to get me today,” she explained, staring at Malakir’s weathered face.
A surprised chirp escaped her when he smacked her on the head, hard enough to sting but just short of actually hurting. “You know better than that,” he chided her, tapping her chin with his index finger. “Open up,” he instructed, glaring at her until she reluctantly did so. Carefully, he prodded around the bruised flesh of her gums, continuing on as if he was holding a completely normal conversation. “Tikara doesn’t hold the presence or lack of wings against anybody. You’ve seen her often enough among the wingless and the winged to know that. But more than most of us, she knows what a handicap they can be too.”
Keeta’s brows pulled together in confusion but since her mouth was still open and his prodding was actually fairly painful, she couldn’t say anything until he pulled back. She winced when she finally managed to close her mouth and worked her jaw, grimacing at the ache still lingering behind. “But how am I supposed to learn how to fight with my wings if she won’t let me?”
“Psh!” Malakir snorted, going off to the side where a small medicine cabinet was, rummaging about as he looked for something without ever looking back. “How do you think she lost her wings, fledgling?”
“In combat,” Keeta answered without hesitation, shifting on her feet uncertainly.
Malakir just laughed at her response and made a satisfied sound in the back of his throat when he found what he was looking for. “Numbing honey,” he grinned, producing a bottle that smelled both too sweet and fairly stomach turning at the same time. “Open up again,” he instructed, prying the top off and retrieving a glob of the thick substance.
“Really?” she cringed, rubbing her cheek reflexively.
“I suppose I can just leave you with the pain for the rest of the day,” he shrugged, making as if to put it away.
“Wait…” Keeta groaned, shuffling forward with a pitiful expression as she opened her mouth again, groaning as he applied the honey to her gum and cheek. They didn’t have snow near enough to go and put a cold handful on her bruise and a cold stone was almost more trouble than it was worth to retrieve right now. The taste was sweet and unpleasant, clinging to her gums and teeth in sticky clumps that dissolved only after persistent effort, leaving the entirety of her mouth feeling funny for at least a little while.
“Now let’s have a look at your wings,” he urged, turning her by the shoulders when she was still distracted so he could start rifling through her feathers.
Keeta couldn’t help but laugh at the ticklish sensation, until his fingers brushed against a sore spot she hadn’t even known she had. “Ow!” she chirped, freezing with a surprised look over her shoulder.
“That’s what I thought,” Malakir mused as if to himself, dabbing a bit of the numbing honey on the raw skin before pressing a soft wrap in place to keep it covered, counting on the binding properties of the medicine to keep it there. “It’s a common enough occurrence when binding the wings. Especially with you young ones,” he chided, turning her back around by her shoulders when he was through. “Think about it, Keeta,” he smiled at her gently, tapping the center of her forehead with one index finger.
To note, this is still untitled and incredibly rough but it’s a start! *cheers*