A young Turkey Vulture woke up in the dead of night. He had heard the deep, haunting hoot of a Great Gray Owl. And there were other owl voices muffled by wind and distance.
The vulture's gizzard twisted as the Great Gray's hoots rang out again. He sounded angry and gleeful. The fledgling pressed against his parents.
"Mom, Dad, wake up!" he hissed.
They roused, lifting their bald, pink heads from under their wings.
"What is it, Sevar?" asked his mom. "Did you have a bad dream?"
"No - look!" he gasped, pointing with his beak.
In the light of the full moon, Black Vultures beat their wings to escape the Great Gray that chased them. The owl had one impossibly long talon that glinted like water. Sevar had never seen anything more terrifying in his life.
"W-what's going on?" asked Sevar, desperate for his mom and dad to make it okay somehow.
His parents quietly stepped in front of him and gazed at the fearsome owl swooping and swinging his shiny talon.
Then the wind picked up from the southwest, bringing the most enticing scent. Unlike most birds, vultures have a refined sense of smell to help them locate food. At that moment, Sevar smelled blood. He shuffled his feet, agitated and excited.
Finally, his dad whispered, "The owls are having a battle."
"What's a battle?" asked Sevar.
"It's when entire groups of animals fight each other, usually to the death. I'll bet another flock of owls is trying to take the Pure Ones' territory."
"Oh. But why did the Great Gray Owl chase the Black Vultures? Is he going to make them fight the Pure Ones?"
"I don't think so," replied his dad. "When I was a hatchling, there was an owl war - a whole bunch of battles - in the north. The owls forced vultures to wheel over the battle space at night to scare their enemies. The vultures did get fresh meat out of the deal, but the owls still didn't give them a choice."
"So…" Sevar gazed at the owl and Black Vultures, which had dwindled to specks floating around the rock formations known as the Horns. "Some owls are afraid of us, but not all owls?"
"That's right." His dad bobbed his head. "Owls may be the proudest of all birds, but the sight of us vultures wheeling in the moonlight freaks them out if they're not expecting us. They hate for any creature to consume their dead."
"Really? But surely something has to eat them when they die."
"The Burrowing Owls usually bury them, so they decompose in the earth," explained his mom. "They'll fight any bird or mammal they catch eating an owl carcass. One time, the Barn Owl Soren's band of four killed a puma they found sinking its teeth into a dead rogue smith."
Sevar didn't know what a rogue smith was, but he was more interested in the first part of the sentence. "Four owls killed a full-grown puma!" he exclaimed.
"So I hear," said his mom. "They used their advanced control of fire to burn it. That's why you never want to get on an owl's bad side."
"Don't eat an owl carcass unless you're absolutely starving," added his dad. "I hear they're not good eating, anyway. Too tough."
"I'll say," said Sevar, thinking of the Great Gray with the long talon.
A/N: I know the owls actually killed a bobcat. The vultures are demonstrating how a story becomes distorted and exaggerated over time.
Hopefully readers have figured out that this ficlet is set during The Burning.
I just read past the halfway point in the Ga'hoole series. I like it, but the anti-racism message is inconsistent at best. It's wrong to say that one species of owl is "more pure" than others, but it's fine to dismiss all other taxonomic families and call them a derogatory name. Huh? I understand why the owls are aloof from the diurnal birds, since they don't often interact with them, but why the distain?
One of the lowest points in the series was when Twilight bullied the vultures. What did they do wrong besides look kind of ugly and do what they had to do to survive, filling a niche that no other creature can?
BTW, I considered sorting this one-shot in Twilight's category, since he's technically in it, but it felt misleading because he's off in the distance.