Those With Wings
Shenta sprinted across the floor of his cavern home at a breakneck pace. The stone ceiling soared high above him, dripping with stalactites. In a few places, the roof opened up to the early morning sky. The sounds of the mountain were flowing into the cavern as the world outside awoke.
The sunlight shone through Shenta’s leathery, translucent wings as he rushed across the stone. The little windwalker was chasing after his friends, Naru and Shiinka, who had so rudely left him behind this morning. At five years old, he was nearly fully grown! Humans and elves at that age could hardly run in a straight line without tripping. And as three-month-old dragon hatchlings, those two were just barely learning to fly. Who were they to leave him?
“Shenta!” a sharp voice snapped. Shenta skidded to a stop and turned around slowly. A slender wind dragon stood in front of him. The two rows of pale green spines trailing down her neck were raised irritatedly. Her coal-black scales melted into the shadows of the cavern, all but the minty green flecks on her face of course. The dragoness’ pale green wings were tucked close to her body and her silver eyes were narrowed.
“Just where do you think you’re running off to? Hmm?” she asked, stepping closer to him. Her narrow, triangular head was cocked to the side in a questioning manner. She batted her tail against the floor, its minty green fin flicking impatiently.
Shenta scuffed the stone floor with his taloned toes. “I’m going after Shiinka and Naru, Yatei.” he said softly. He hated when she got all grumpy. As leader of the Kazekigu Clan, Yatei had to be be cautious and protective. But did she have to be snippy about it? “They left this morning without telling me.”
The ridges above Yatei’s eyes rose. “Oh? Did they? And where do you think they went?”
Shenta glanced towards the cavern mouth. “I guess to the little hollow where they practiced flying the other day.” he muttered uncertainly. Shenta had been so blasted angry when he’d found out they’d left him that he hadn’t even thought about where they’d gone.
Yatei nodded slightly. “That’s a good deduction.” Her bright eyes twinkled. “Well, you’d better get after them. They’ve got a big enough head start as it is.” She lowered her head and nuzzled Shenta’s belly. He laughed and hugged her large head, which was bigger than his torso. “Just be safe, Shenta.”
Shenta nodded seriously. He’d never want to make Yatei nervous. Not after all she’d done for him. The spirited wind dragon had been bound by magic to his mother. After she was killed in the war, Yatei had taken Shenta in as her own. “I will be. I promise.” With that, Shenta bolted for the cavern mouth.
The young windwalker passed dragons lazing in the morning sun as he rushed across the plateau that stretched before the cavern entrance. His wings were tucked close to his back as he nodded to two of the elder dragonesses, Etaki and Gongetsu.
“Where are you off to today, young Shenta?” Gongetsu, a storm dragon, asked, thumping her forked tail lazily. The pale light danced across her copper scales as she raised her mighty head. Her teal eyes were warm and patient as ever. “You seem to be in a hurry.”
Shenta ran a hand through his long silver-white, hair, shrugging his wings impatiently as he quickly told them his plans.
Etaki tapped a talon on the sun-warmed stone and shifted herself so that her rough shoulder spikes weren’t touching the ground. “Hmm,” she rumbled. “I think I saw them heading towards the eastern cliffs.” The forest green dragon swung her thick, spiked tail east, towards the rising sun. “Those bone-brains are always lying to their mother. Chikai should have learned by now.” The earth dragon clicked her tongue disapprovingly. Shenta knew that Etaki had raised more than her fair share of hatchlings, so she never hesitated to pass judgment of the parenting skills of others.
Shenta bowed low and said quickly, “I’m sure you’re right. Thank you for your help.” With that, the lanky adolescent took off for the eastern cliffs. He skidded off the plateau and onto a side trail. The rocky path wasn’t well worn, with numerous rockslides and cracks. Which of course didn’t bother anyone else in the Kazekigu Clan, as Shenta was the only one who couldn’t fly. But, regardless of it’s difficulty, this was the only path Shenta could take. The windwalker scrambled over a large boulder, making good use of his taloned toes and fingers. Once over the rock, Shenta pelted easily along the trail as it wound up the mountainside.
Out of all the places the clan had lived to escaped the war, this place was by far Shenta favorite. They’d traveled over the continent of Isera in search of refuge. And he couldn’t speak for the other three continents of Errias, but Isera was covered by immensely beautiful territory. His clan had once lived in a valley where there had been more wildflowers than grass. On another mountain, they’d lived in a cave that had thousands of glittering gems in its walls. But the Talriss Mountains range, that Kazekigu Clan had claimed for themselves, was Shenta’s idea of a perfect home.
It was a few day’s flight from the northeastern coast of Isera. Shenta had never been to the ocean, but he had smelled the salt on the air many times. Yatei said it was lovely on the beach, just so long as you stayed out of the water. The oceans of Errias were known to be filled to the brim with nasty and extremely powerful monsters.
The Talriss Mountains were covered with lush vegetation. Cool, freshwater rivers thundered through pine forests and spilled over cliffs into to crystal clear pools. While the range itself didn’t cover much ground, the mountains were tall, reaching so high into the sky that clouds often spilled into clan’s main cavern. Moss and ferns covered the ground almost entirely. Mountain laurels bloomed all throughout the range, adding splashes of white and pink in the dark green forests.
And the prey! Shenta had never been to a place so full of animals. While the most abundant prey were deer, rabbits, and squirrels, Shenta had smelled mountain goats and even some elk in the valleys. Even now, the scents of black-horned deer and snow rabbits filled his nose. If he had not been on a mission, the young windwalker would have been tempted to climb up the trail’s sheer face and go hunting. But, Shenta was determined to find his sly friends.
After nearly half an hour of trekking over boulders and across unstable ground, Shenta reached the eastern cliffs. The rough trail had leveled out with the forest a few moments before, so now Shenta was waiting at the treeline, watching for other young dragons. The open space in front of the cliff’s edge was empty, but Shenta could detect the lingering scent of his clanmates.
The windwalker crept out of his hiding place, his midnight blue eyes sweeping the terrain. He knew Naru and Shiinka were around somewhere, and he also knew that they would find great joy in scaring the scales off him if they got the chance. Shenta kept sniffing the air, but the drafts blowing up from the cliffside swept away any scents directly around him. As he edged farther into the open, a deafening roar split the air.
“Wooohoooo!!” Shenta recognized Shiinka’s high voice immediately, and rushed to the edge of the cliff. He gazed over and spotted the little female flipping around in the ravine. Her ice blue scales stood out brightly against the dark cliff face. The silver patches on her wings and along her back caught the sunlight and sent light dancing across the rocks. The dragon angled her body toward the sky and spread her wings. A strong draft caught the tough membrane and drove Shiinka into the air, blasting past Shenta.
“Shiinka!” Shenta called as the frost dragon tumbled gleefully through the sky. She twisted clumsily and came plummeting back to the earth. As she reached the ground, Shenta took a step to the right. Shiinka managed to not crash headfirst into the rock, but she still landed flat on her belly.
“Ow,” she moaned flatly while she sat up, rubbing her paw on her soft underbelly. She flashed her lavender eyes at Shenta then to the ground. She flicked her long, spear-like tail tip nervously. “H-hello, Shenta.”
Shenta wanted to be mad. He want to snap at her for leaving him this morning, but he knew that it had all been Naru’s idea. So he simply said, “Hey. Where’s your brother?”
Shiinka’s head snapped up and she looked around wildly. “Well, he was down in the ravine with me, but he must have flown off on his own.” She pulled her lips over her sharp teeth nervously. “Where did that bone-brain get off to? As good as he is, he can’t fly for much longer than me yet! He thinks he’s invincible, I swear!” Shiinka got to her paws and started heading back to the forest.
Shenta hurried after her, his translucent wings fluttering absentmindedly. “Where are you going?” he asked the dragoness. Shiinka could be a bit of a scatterbrain, but once she got an idea in her head, she was more focused than any dragon Shenta knew. Given his short life, that hadn’t been many, but still.
Shiinka glanced back and said, “I’m going to get my mother and the other adults. Naru’s no doubt got himself stuck somewhere.”
Shenta stopped and dug his talons into the dirt excitedly. “Why don’t we look for him?”
Shiinka gave him an odd look, with her eye ridges raised and head turned to the side. “Have you gone soft in the head? He flew down the ravine. There all kinds of caves and tunnels there, so it would take forever if we had to check them all ourselves. Anyway, even if we wanted to,” She shrugged her wings and scrapped her talons across the ground awkwardly. “You can’t fly.”
Shenta frowned. “I’m well aware. And it’s not my fault, you know.” Like all windwalkers bonded to dragons, Shenta wouldn’t be able to fly until he found his dragon and completed their bond. “But that doesn’t matter. I can glide down to the bottom of the ravine and search there. You can fly to the caves higher up the cliff.” The dragoness didn’t look too convinced, so Shenta pressed on. “Come on, Shiinka. Don’t you want to explore? Naru certainly did!”
Shiinka shook her head, her budding, black-tipped horns swishing in the wind. “No. No, we can’t. I’m gonna be in enough trouble because we lied to Mother about where we were going. I don’t need to go and try to be a hero and get myself lost as well. We need the adults’ help.” Shiinka broke into a run back towards the cavern.
Shenta stayed rooted where he was. Shiinka may not want to be a hero, but he did. He wanted to prove to the clan that he could be useful to them. Even without the use of his wings.
Determination flowed through Shenta’s veins. He spun on his heel and raced back to the cliff with his waist-length hair sailing behind him. Before he could let logic stop him, Shenta threw himself off the edge. The windwalker snapped open his nearly useless wings and concentrated on keeping himself steady as the wind filled his wings, carrying him to the bottom on the ravine. A sense of serenity fell over him. While Shenta had flown thousands of times with the adult dragons, the feeling of air traveling over his own wings was absolute bliss, even though they were almost completely numb.
When his feet hit the sandy floor of the dry riverbed, Shenta gazed up around him. On either side, the shadowy cliffs rose up into the immense blue sky. He could see a few straggly bushes and shrubs clinging to the cliffs, but no other plants seemed to survive down here. Dark cave mouths also dotted the cliff face. Naru could be in anyone of them.
Shenta rolled his eyes. The least he could do was call for the missing dragon. Shiinka was such a worrier. Naru was probably exploring a nearby cave, and she just had to run off to tell the adults. Naru and Shenta didn’t always get along, but he didn’t want him to get in trouble. If he could find the her brother before Shiinka got back with the adults, all would be well. Right?
“Naru!” Shenta yelled, listening to his words bounce off of the cliffs. It echoed down the ravine for miles, as far as his keen ears could tell. He hoped it traveled through the caves as well, but he be couldn’t sure.
Shenta called for Naru several more times, and when there was no answer, he began walking down the the riverbed, away from the cavern trail. Shenta knew Naru was a bit of an daydreamer, like himself, so the young dragon would no doubt try to get far away from what was familiar. While Shenta and the other two adolescents had been allowed to go the eastern cliffs, they were not supposed to go into the ravine. The Kazekigu Clan had only been staying in the Talriss Mountains for a few months now, and the adults had yet to search all of the surrounding area for trouble. With so many caves and tunnels, they hadn’t been able to explore all of them. And, as strong as dragons were, there were many dangers they shouldn’t face alone.
Shenta wandered down the ravine at a slow pace. He was searching the ground and cliff faces for any sign of Naru. Maybe a scuffle in the sand or talon marks on the rocks. But nothing stood out. Shenta couldn’t sniff out Naru either. There was a constant wind surging between the cliffs, dragging all scents with it. And even in the warm sunlight, the wind sent shivers down Shenta’s spine.
Though, perhaps it wasn’t just the wind. The shadows the cliffs cast were growing longer as the minutes passed. Shenta swore he could see moments in the darkness, but he couldn’t hear or smell anything. High above him, the forest was alive with noise. He could hear birds singing and the thumping of rabbits’ feet and deer hooves. The breeze rippled through the trees and a far off stream bubbled lazily.
Down in the ravine, Shenta felt detached from the world. He hugged his wings around himself as he continued. Even though he was just a few years from being fully grown, Shenta was still very young; he lacked the experience needed for real maturity and confidence. And as much as he loved adventure, he’d never been alone like this before.
As he got farther and farther from the cliff he’d leapt from, Shenta became more reluctant to yell for Naru. There was a tension in the air that he couldn’t place. The sandy riverbed had been free of pawprints or the like the whole time Shenta had been walking, but as he rounded a bend, a stretch of sand appeared that was smooth as steel.
Shenta paused, hesitant to place his foot on the immaculate sand. Something had smoothed it out, and it hadn’t been the wind. He crouched low to the ground and sniffed the earth. Nothing. A whole lot of nothing. Something wasn’t right.
Shenta stood up slowly as his wings began to raise defensively. He felt the scales on his forearms, shins, and back press tighter to his skin, creating a stronger barrier in case of an attack.
There should be some kind of scent present, whether it be the sand itself or the fern fronds and pine needles that had fallen into the ravine. Shenta only knew of one creature that could mask scents like that.
The frighten windwalker was about retrace his steps when a rumbling growl split the tense silence. Shenta’s feet were stuck to the ground as the beast emerged from its cave. It was a khesu: a creature that resembled a fox, but happened to about ten times the size. It had a row of razor sharp bristles trailing down its spine. Its long, fiery orange tail swept across the sand with anticipation. But the feature that Shenta was most worried about was its three-foot long, elephant-like tusks. The massive creature drug those tusks through the earth, sending a cloud of sand into the air. Even with the khesu right in front of him, Shenta still couldn’t smell it. But, that didn’t matter so much as the khesu began to charge.
Shenta ran at the fox head on. The beast let those a bone-shattering snarl and swung its massive tusks at Shenta. He slid underneath the attack and the animal. As frightening as the khesu was, its size and tusks made it clumsy. When Shenta popped up behind the beast, it skidded to a halt. It roared as it turned back, tossing its head. It lashed its feathery tail and cut its tusks through the sand again.
“Shenta! Over here!” Shenta glanced behind him and saw a raven-black, reptilian head poking out from a cave almost halfway up up the cliff.
“Naru!” Shenta yelled, backing towards the cliff. The khesu was pacing back and forth along the other rock wall. It seemed to be trying to figure out how to catch such quick prey. “I might need you help.”
“Of course.” the young male said with shaky determination.
Before the khesu could make up its mind, Shenta spun on his heel and bolted for the cliff. He pumped his wings furiously, but the thin membrane refused to catch the wind. And he didn’t need to look to know the fox was chasing him. Its heavy paws thundered across the ground, echoing down the ravine.
When Shenta reached the cliff, he made a mad leap for the nearest ledge. It was too far. He wasn’t going to make it.
“Grab my tail!” Naru screeched, swinging his long, black tail from the cave. Shenta kicked off of the wall and grabbed hold. The air whooshed around his feet as the khesu’s tusks missed him by a hair’s breadth.
Naru rushed forward, pulling his tail and Shenta along with him. The jagged, uneven spines on the top of Naru’s tail cut into Shenta’s palms. Though he didn't feel the pain. Both Shenta and Naru fell on their sides, panting from exertion and fear. Naru lifted his blue-speckled face and the panic was clear in his eyes.
“I never saw that thing coming!” the frost dragon hissed, his voice trembling, and Shenta could tell that he his whole body was shaking from the way Naru’s blue-tipped spines quivering. “I didn’t smell it or anything! I was just walking down the ravine, because my wings were tired and sore, and then that thing came charging out of its cave a-and-” He shook his head and shrugged his wings weakly. “And it tried to eat me! I couldn’t really fly, so I scrambled up here to rest. I didn’t mean to almost get eaten, you know? That thing doesn’t sme-”
Shenta held up his hand. “I know, Naru. It’s called a khesu. Yatei told me about them before you were born. They secrete this odor that is well, odorless. It hides them from prey and other predators alike.” He stepped closer to the frightened dragon and touched his ebony shoulder. Not many things would try to hunt a dragon. Being treated like prey was world shaking to a creature taught to rule the skies. “You would have never seen it coming.”
Naru glanced gratefully at Shenta, but then his pale blue eyes filled with guilt and he hung his head. “I know you’re only out here because you were looking for me and Shiinka. I’m sorry we left you. We wanted to practice flying and-” Naru’s head snapped up suddenly. “Wait! Shiinka! Where is she? She didn’t come down here with you? Is she hurt? I completely forgot about her when I was flying. Oh, gods, I’m a terrible brother!”
Shenta couldn’t help but snicker at the siblings similarities. To silence Naru’s rambling, Shenta flicked him on the snout. “She’s fine, scale-head.” he laughed. “She went to get the adults when we realized you were missing, and then I went looking for you.” A thought occurred to him. “Come to think of it, didn’t you hear me calling out?”
Naru nodded glumly. “Yeah...but I was too scared to answer you, with that beast around and all. I thought it might try to get up here again.”
Shenta shrugged. “That’s all right. I’m not keen to agitate that thing either.” It was easy to forget, when Naru was showing off and smart mouthing the adults, that he was still so young. He was just a terrified as Shenta.
Naru flopped dramatically to the cave floor, his sky-blue wings sprawled out around him, taking up most of the cave. “I just hope Shiinka gets here with the adults soon. I’m starving!”
Shenta sat down beside the lean dragon and pulled his knees to his chest. “You’d think they’d have found us by now.” Shenta flinched as a thought struck him. “You...you don’t think something happened to them? Accalia’s men couldn’t have found them, right?”
Naru’s pale eyes flashed with fear. “I don’t know…Gods, I hope not!”
Shenta dug his toe talons into the stone floor. Accalia...the reason Shenta was an orphan. The reason the Kazekigu Clan was forced to leave their home. The reason Shenta’s people were being hunted like beasts. That power hungry witch used her dragons and dark magic to take control of almost the entire continent. If the tiny Kazekigu Clan, with only fifteen members, was discovered by Accalia’s army of corrupted dragonriders, they would stand a chance.
“We have to get back.” Shenta said, rising to his feet.
“Are you mad!?” Naru gasped, sitting up so fast he whacked his head against the roof. He shook his head then said, “We’ll never get past the khesu! And even if we did, what help would we be? A flightless windwalker and a three-month-old dragon?”
Shenta started walking to the cave mouth. “Fine. I’ll go myself. Stay here and hide for all I care. I thought you cared more about your sister.” He heard the dragon stand and shuffle after him.
“Never say I don’t care about Shiinka.” Naru growled. Together, he and Shenta looked over the edge of the cave. The flame-colored fox was still pacing around at the foot of the cliff. It kept scrapping its tusks through the sand and along the stone.
Naru shuddered. “Now, how do you plan on getting by that thing?”
Shenta considered their situation. The khesu was a significantly bigger than both of them, taller than any horse Shenta had seen. Naru was around the size of a pony, and he didn’t even come up to the its shoulder. Now, if the frost dragon had been just a few months older, when his wings would be larger and stronger, he could just carry Shenta and they’d fly to freedom.
Shenta tapped his chin with a talon. “Do you feel strong enough to fly out of here?” he asked.
Naru stretched his wings as far as he could in cramped cave. He rolled his shoulders and swung his tail a few times. “I’m a little stiff, but other than that, I should be fine.”
Shenta nodded approvingly. “All right, I’ve got a plan.” Naru sat down and waited intently. Shenta cleared his throat importantly, like all of the adults did before they said something crucial. “You fly out of here, get the khesu’s attention. Then, I’ll glide to the ground and make a run for it.”
Naru’s eyes bulged from his head. “Now I know you’ve lost it. There is no way I’m leaving you on the ground to fend for yourself. That monster’ll gut you like a pig.” He tossed his wings exasperatedly. “I don’t want to be the one to tell Yatei that you got yourself killed for my sake. There has to be a another way.”
Shenta’s eyebrows scrunched together. “Well, I suppose you could try to carry me.”
Naru sighed and his head drooped. “Obviously that would work...if I was bigger...but-”
“And if I had my dragon and could fly,” Shenta interrupted. “We wouldn’t be in this mess. If’s and but’s won’t help us, Naru. The adults won’t find us here, unless we make ourselves known. They can’t smell us, remember? We have to get out of here.” Shenta gazed out of the cave at the cliff on the other side of the ravine. “If we fly from here to the top of that cliff, we’ll be in the clear.” He placed a hand on Naru’s side. “I have faith, Naru. You’re a frost dragon of the Kazekigu Clan and I’m a nearly full-grown windwalker!” Shenta grinned widely. “What could go wrong?”