Leaping from one large outcropping of rock to another, Nexabelle glanced down the side of the mountain. The air smelled different under the clouds. It seemed thicker, too. She leaped again, landing on a ridge below.
Now she’d made her escape, she was unsure what to do with her freedom. The urgency she felt all but deserted her. Pacing, claws clacking, she felt vulnerable. What if they came looking? To get this far only to be caught due to indecision would be mortifying. Nexabelle nodded to herself and stretched up high, her crystalline claws sending prisms of sunlight dancing along the snowy ridge. There wasn’t room to fully stretch, so she rolled her shoulders. “That’s it, Nexie. Time enough to move along.”
She threw a glance over her shoulder as though she could see through the cloud layer separating her from home. Her old home, she reminded herself. A flash of sadness at leaving her nestmates behind caught her breath, nearly taking away her balance. She caught herself and shook it off, growling at herself. “Focus, Nexie.”
Perhaps she drew it out more than necessary. She scampered from ridge to ramble, dawdling over the purple berries on a white bush. The wind riffled at her downy covering, catching her attention and spurring her on. Down she went, jumping and landing effortlessly.
Finally beyond the ridges and crags, amid the rough meadows of scrubby wildflowers and bushes, she found herself upon a path. She walked around a tree standing nearly in the path, its trunk thick and dark. The tree forked into a macabre looking trident which sat guard at the mountain pass leading to the small town below. The handlers whispered of the town, but no one mentioned this tree. Was it guardian or warning?
Nexabelle’s spine shivered, bringing a tiny gust of wind about her head and shoulders. Finding reassurance in the little breeze, she did as Marchan told her. “Keep going on foot,” her handler murmured when she finally pushed him far enough. “The town once was respite for your kind as they made their ways into the world.”
“Why are we kept from the world now, Marchan?”
The human smiled and brushed the softness on her cheek with fingertips. “You are young, Nexie. You will learn not all questions are as simple as they seem.” She frowned, but he said no more for several days.
“Stay on foot, Nexabelle. The path leads to the town. If you have any chance of a kind welcome from the human villagers, keep going on foot.” Marchan’s pleading was in his light eyes as well as his voice. She promised him, accepting his concerns without allowing them to dissuade her. She knew this was her purpose. She did not need to know why.
The next day, he snuck in a small pack. “There’s not much. Treats, a brush and these.” He showed her wood and metal discs on a string through holes in their centers. “These are called coins. You barter them for goods and services, like food and a place to sleep safely.” As he explained, he groomed her as was normal for the time period. Between his soft words and the gentle brushing, she was lulled into a half-doze and missed most of the lesson.
She woke with a start when Marchan put the brush into the satchel. It was then Marchan told her she must leave tonight. He would make her excuses from evening devotionals and meal, claiming she had a sore head from training. The Garrison would be busy disciplining him, not thinking to look for her until she was well gone. A snatch of the satchel and following directions from Marchan she went.
The meadows gave way to ones with evenly spaced plants in rows. Tempted to explore them, she remembered she must “keep going on foot.” Would the Garrison do the same when they came looking for her? Surely they mounted a mission by now. She put her trust in Marchan, but put some speed in her step. Fascinated by the wooden constructions which began to appear on the sides of the path, now wide, she slowed briefly. Was this the town? She stopped and turned slowly, taking in the sights. Humans filtered out from the constructions. They were paler than Marchan, with wide eyes and a combined silence which settled on the population.
A human male came forward. He wore a string of metal discs around his neck. Nexie thought she should get hers from the pack when he said simply, “Praise be. You bless us, young Medyon.” She had no answer for this man. A kind welcome to be sure.
Finding her voice, Nexie asked, “May I be of service?” It seemed the right thing to do.
“Surely The Guiding Spirit sent you to help us with the transition, young Medyon?”
“Please, call me Nexabelle. The Guiding Spirit guides all, but often doesn’t reveal all. How may I be of service?” she pressed.
“Please, come. It will be clear.” The man waved a hand, leading Nexie to a wooden construct. Her crystalline nails tapped on the wooden shell over the ground. She smelled a nest, an occupied one. Hurrying to it, she found an elder curled in it. She was neither awake nor asleep, but resting in the world of light dreams. Nexie took her hand and lightly scratched the elder’s palm with her claws, then brushed the elder’s downy cheek. “Our elder Medyon friend’s name is Sogio, Nexabelle. She said you would come to take her place.” Nexie smiled.
“Sogio,” Nexie bent close, “you pass with our love and gratitude into the Spirit’s next guidance. I will stay with the humans. I belong here now.”
The elder rose from her dreams to whisper, “I beg you cover me as I pass.”
With a self-conscious glance at the human, Nexabelle unfurled her wings with a sigh. She pressed her cheek lightly to the elder’s and felt her pass in the dappled light.