The clouds moved in his direction, seeming to come closer to mingle with the earth; to take him with them. He sighed. He knew very well that fantasies did not come true.
On days like these, he loved to stay up on this grassy hill and lay here. The feel of the green plants prickling, tickling his skin; the sun on his face; the wind blowing in any direction. It was bliss.
The only thing that reminded him that he was not a bird was his solid connection to the ground, and the bitter reality of his life.
But this day was different, terribly different. He had just found out that he was going to be a father and he had to clear his head. How couldn't he have noticed that his lover was with child?
A shadow loomed overhead. A foul stench met his nostrils. Rikash sat bolt upright. Something was not right.
"Look what we've got here," a smirk came from behind him. "A little dreamer, are you?"
The green-eyed man twisted to see the thing speaking. His eyes widened at the things in front of him: steel wings, human chest and head. The one at the front— and the one he supposed had spoken— had his chestnut hair done up with bones and his face was sharp.
Rikash stood up abruptly and ran, as fast as he could. Things like those were not meant to exist.
"Cage him, girls," he demanded in a husky voice. It seemed that this was his natural speaking voice.
"Him?" a blonde with blue eyes questioned. "But he's so scrawny."
A raven-haired female turned on the subordinate. "Are you complaining, Kitanni?"
The female gulped hard, fear in her eyes. She shook her head sharply.
"Good. Go, and cage him. Before he gets away."
The female stormwings took flight except for the black-haired one. They formed a circle around the mortal. "What're you goin' t' do, laddy?" a hazel-eyed girl taunted. "You'ven't a weapon. Nor an escape route."
Rikash looked around, panicked. A hard thudding sounded in his chest and sweat poured down his face. He was sure that he smelt terrible as of now.
The pair arrived shortly after. "Why'd you run, tiny boy?" the green-eyed stormwing drawled. "I just wanted to talk." He smiled crookedly as the ladies made room for him to stand on his talons.
If the man had any moisture left in his mouth, he'd gulp —but he didn't so he settled for breathing heavily. "I'm no use to you," he said in a shaky voice. "What do you want from me?"
"Lately, our flock has been dwindling," the brunet said dramatically, feigning sorrow. "And our clan might disappear if we don't recruit." He flicked wicked green eyes up to Rikash. "Are you game?"
The blond shook his head vigorously. "I don't know how to be a Stormwing! I don't even want to be a stormwing!"
"We'll give you lessons," a raven-haired one said. "I'm the best teacher in the realm." Her blue eyes were much closer to violet.
"Besides," the brunet Stormwing butt in with his usual tone. "you've nothing to lose, right?"
That was right! Rikash had a family waiting at home, although it wasn't full yet. His wife-to-be would be left alone; his unborn son left fatherless. He had to do something!
"What if I don't agree," he said cautiously.
The leader shrugged. "Then you don't agree. A forced follower isn't a follower at all. Right, ladies?"
"Of course, Chalawo," they replied in unison.
"But, then we'd obviously have to kill you…" He said it as if he was wistful, thoughtful.
Rikash looked at Chalawo's smug eyes. Was he bluffing? Of course not; Stormwings don't bluff! He chided himself. He couldn't run— he knew that. He couldn't attack… "I'll do it," he said finally.
"There's a sport." He grinned and ruffled his feathers so that a few of them fell to the ground. "Pick one up and cut yourself with it. Just a little cut. It doesn't have to be a big one."
The braided man picked up the steel feather and nicked himself on the arm. He winced and froze, eyes wide. Something was happening. His blood went cold, and his eyes could see much clearer than before. He felt odd fur— no, feathers!— erupt from his arms, and anything from the waist down. His feet were exchanged for three silver talons. To his great chagrin, his clothes ripped and fell.
"There you go," Chalawo said approvingly. "Now, try flying. It isn't hard."
The circle of Stormwings stepped back to give him some room. Rikash the stormwing flailed his wings and —much to his surprise— gained lift off. Despite the tons of steel on his body, he felt incredibly light. Although he was a stormwing, he was elated. The sun on his face, the wind howling in any direction. But he wasn't brought back to his previous, harsh reality; he let it fall away, where it could be forgotten, at least just this once.
Rikash spun in a circle, yelling his excitement. He was finally in the air! He was finally free!
"And he said that he didn't want to become a Stormwing," the raven-haired one sneered.
The green-eyed male sighed. "Just go get him, Opai. Before he hurts himself."
"Yessir," she said sarcastically. He didn't scold as she flew up to retrieve their new recruit.
His moment of elation ended when he realized that he couldn't stay up for that long. Must be something to do with me being a beginner, he thought. A realization struck him. His wife-to-be! What would happen to her and their unborn child? He had to be there! But he couldn't be there; the least he could do was say farewell.
Deolla, his wife-to-be lived at the bottom of the hill, and wasn't that far away. He floated down, squeezing the power out of himself so that he could reach her.
"Why do they always run," Kitanni said, acting smug.
"Don't be a hypocrite," Chalawo growled to the blonde. "Don't neglect the fact that you tried to escape once you turned as well."
She frowned and bowed her head. "I apologize, Chalawo."
"He won't be able to fly far, anyways," he sneered. "He doesn't know how to control his magic." He flew up, looking at Opai and Rikash. Where was he going? "What a cute little hut… But it's odd for him to be terrorizing the villagers so quickly." Chalawo took off to check on them. "Don't move," he called back to his followers. They didn't.
The pair stopped at the bottom of the hill and in front of the hut. "Come back!" Opai commanded. "You can't go killing people right off the bat."
"My wife lives here," he told the blue-eyed female. "I must say good bye." He turned to the modest hut. "Deolla! Deolla! Are you in there?"
She scoffed. "Saying good bye will only make it hurt worse. It's better to move on and forget."
A woman with a round belly and braided blonde hair opened the door. "Rikash? You're here early." She looked up to see the two Stormwings and paled, eyes dilating. She stumbled back. "What have you done with Rikash?"
She looked around the room and spotted a bow and arrow. Although she had no confidence that she could shoot it properly with shaking hands, she took it and put an arrow to it. "I'll shoot," she said shakily. "I swear by Mithros I will."
Rikash hopped back awkwardly on his talons. "Deolla, it's me, Rikash."
She swung the bow at him, making him lean backwards from shock. "You're a Stormwing. You're not my Rikash."
"I am," he said cautiously.
Opai sighed and hopped around. "I told you so."
When Chalawo got to their area, he stopped.
Deolla studied Rikash's face and put the bow down. "It really is you."
The new storming nodded. "It's me, Deolla."
"I turned into a Stormwing and I can't stay here," he said bitterly. "I'm going to have to leave you. I'm sorry."
So he wants to say good bye… the leader thought. Then I guess I could give him this one moment of proper human interaction.
"You're going to leave me?" Deolla demanded, raising a brow. "You are going to leave me?"
"I know, it's terrible. But it seems that I have no choice. You know that immortals can't switch back to mortal state." The blond sighed. "I'll pray for—"
"Is this your way out of an early marriage? Early fatherhood?" Her voice was starting to rise significantly. "That is so stupid! You could've just said that you can't handle it. I would've much rather liked that merchant from the village west of here. He has a beard! And it's red!"
Rikash's face twisted in anger. "It's not my fault! I didn't want to become a Stormwing! I wanted to see my child being born, to hold him in very human hands!"
"After all those times you dreamed of flying," she scoffed. "Or 'aerial transportation' as you put it."
"Don't mock me!"
Opai bit her lip, trying to keep from laughing. "I think this is a good time to go, Rikash."
"Fine!" the green-eyed stormwing screeched. "Go and marry that disgusting bearded man!"
Deolla raised a fist in the air and shook it at him. "Maybe I will!" He took off and Opai followed him. "That's right!" she yelled. "Run! That's what you always do anyhow!"
Her angry voice faded away with every meter that was put between them. Rikash was still red with anger. "I can't believe that woman," he muttered under his breath.
"Wives," Chalawo said sympathetically. "You never really can understand them."
"I'm still Queen, Chalawo. You're just my male muscle," Opai growled. "Would you like to experience the fate of my previous king?"
He smiled sheepishly. "No, of course not, dear. You know I love you."
She snorted and flew ahead of them.
"Her bark is worse than her bite," Chalawo whispered to Rikash.
"My bark is not worse than my bite!" she snarled. "It's only ten percent of my bite."
"Don't worry," the brunet said. "She'll grow on you."
"What's going to happen now?" Rikash asked, suddenly realizing his true situation. "You're going to take me in, right?"
"Yes," he said. "We'll show you the ropes, give you food."
"I don't understand. You seemed so… evil before." He looked down. Things would be hard as an immortal. Things would be different. The only good thing was that he had gotten his wish, his fantasy. But the price to pay was too much…
"That's to scare you into joining. You know how she called me 'male muscle'?" he explained. "Well, humans were hardly convinced that such a beautiful Stormwing could do so much damage and she never really liked the sound they made when she killed them; their screeches hurt her ears— a lot!"
Rikash nodded in understanding. "Will I be male muscle as well?"
Chalawo shrugged, as much as a Stormwing could shrug. "It all depends on her."
They settled where he left the females. "Everyone knows where we're going, right?" Opai demanded in a stern voice.
"Yes, ma'am," they replied in unison.
She turned to Chalawo. "You guide Rikash. Don't want to get our newest member lost, do we?" He nodded.
"Then it's settled. And Rikash?" the braided blond looked at her sharply. "Welcome to the clan. The Iron Bone Clan."
They first lived in a meadow where things were mostly bright and peaceful. The problem there was that they couldn't fly when it rained— not to mention it was uncomfortable with wet wings, although Opai didn't mind. As a leader, she made the decision to move to a cave instead. They found a nice one that was inhabited by three humans who they quickly converted.
It was true. They taught Rikash the ropes, how to control his magic, how to attack with magic. They taught him how to eat, to his great chagrin. They also taught him how to deal with Opai. Her favourite things in the world were hot springs and good kisses. Of course, she didn't accept the latter from females; she wasn't like that.
"I don't understand," Rikash said one night. "Why didn't you two just drag me away with your magic or something?" He was talking about when he was saying 'farewell' to Deolla.
"Because, Rikash," Chalawo sighed. "We're all new blood here. I'm positive that we're the only clan with members like these. And I'm sure that we're the only ones who know about this method. We'll be trading the method for hunting grounds soon enough."
"So what if you're new blood?" the blond snapped.
"We know how it is to be human. And I, for one, don't want to go back." Sadness passed across Chalawo's features. Rikash wondered what he'd gone through to make such a shadow pass his usually bright eyes.
"Anyhow," he said, shaking his head and making the bones in his hair clang together. "Opai's family was taken by Stormwings and she was so close to committing suicide. She took one of their feathers and cut herself with it. When she tried to join a Clan, they all turned her down. Said that they didn't want any half-breeds or dirty blood in their Clan.
"Then, about a few years ago, she got Tsilanso." Tsilanso was a hazel-eyed red-head. "And she continued to add females. But she realized that she had no males so she got me. It changed all of our lives, it did. And I don't regret it at all. Nor does she."
Rikash was talking with Chalawo about Stormwing lessons when the ladies brought in a hysterical human.
"Stop cryin'," Tsilanso snapped. "Ye won't die or an'thin'."
"But you're Stormwings!" the woman cried. "Of course I'm going to die!"
"Why do they have a live one?" the blond asked Chalawo.
"Maintenance," he said before flying to the girl. "Calm down," he said in a soothing voice. "What's your name?"
She looked up with large, chocolate brown eyes. "Jessabella," she said.
"All you have to do is fix everyone's hair, alright?" She nodded. "Good. Now, I'll sit down and you'll fix my hair, okay?" Another nod. "Good."
He sat down and shook his head to put his hair back in place. "Make sure that it's nice and strong, so that we won't need to take another human again."
The females protested that it was unfair for him to get first grooming. "We brought her in!" Kitanni whined.
Chalawo just smirked.
Jessabella timidly inched toward the immortal and took a comb out of her pocket. "You have really oily hair," she commented as she ran the comb through his bark-colored locks.
"Tell me about it," he sighed. "Frankly, we've no hands to wash it out with."
"I could wash it out for you if you'd like."
He turned. "You're willing to wash my oily hair?"
She smiled without showing any teeth. "Anything for you." She liked the man who spoke to her softly when she was crying.
Opai, violet-eyed and jealous, butt into the scene. "There will be no hair-rinsing today," she snapped. "You'll all have to wait for the next maiden we pick up."
The females hopped from claw to claw, looking down. They didn't want to get scolded by their leader. She could do real damage; Hollence lost an eye and earned a scar from her chest to her navel the last time she'd gotten into trouble. The only person who could really get her to calm down was their King.
"But Opai!" Chalawo whined. "We'll make it real quick! And I found a new hot spring in the western lands of Maren. What d'you say?"
The Queen glared at the male, thinking. At last, she sighed. "Fine. We'll go to your new hot spring."
Rikash laughed. He loved his new environment although it was filled with the oddest members: a strong yet soft queen; a clever yet kind King; females of different personalities and faces; humans being forced to fix hair. "Let's go," he said, standing up. "Me and Chalawo will lead the way." He decided that mortality wasn't worth missing, not with a family like this.
Years passed and they grew, adding both male and female members. During rainy days, they'd all sit around the fire and tell stories of their mortal lives. This was one thing they could do on rainy days without leaving anyone out; this was one thing they loved to do to bond. On really stormy days, they'd reminisce, cry, and whine and the clan would be behind them, ready to give them a mental hug because true hugging was near impossible.
Rikash discovered after a good feed that he would be Chalawo's successor. "When I'm too weak to take care of you guys, you'll be taking my place, Rikash," he informed the younger Stormwing. "But it'll be many years from now so you've got plenty of time to train."
His eyes widened. "Train?"
The King nodded and looked up at the sky. The meadow that they used to stay in was brimming with life: colorful flowers dotted the brilliant grass and the sky was an azure blue, white fluffy clouds drifting by lazily. This was their free time. They were allowed to do whatever they wanted in this period.
"You'll be wearing my hair bones and you'll be taking up my duties."
"Yes, but…" Rikash's lip twitched. "But did you train when you took up this job?"
He laughed. "No! But don't they say that the children are our future? We want the future to be better than the past, right? Because that's the only thing we can really control. Sometimes, the gods interrupt and we can't even control that!"
The blond Stormwing didn't have any more time to panic over the fact that he'd b taking on a big responsibility in a few decades. A female Stormwing was making their way toward them.
She sniffed the air. "Iron-blood, I presume," she sneered. Her face looked pinched and her blonde-pink hair was shoulder length; feathers usually cut it once it reached farther than that. She turned dull grey eyes on Chalawo. "Everyone here was recruited by you, huh?"
"By me, actually," Opai growled, baring her teeth. "What business do you have here?"
"I wish to defeat your leader," she hissed. "And I'll make this Clan strong, famous even."
Their violet-eyed Queen scoffed. "We do not need popularity. Begone. Before I decide to kill you."
The stranger gasped. "You, kill me? D'you realize who you're talking to? I'm Jalina Tasone. I have more than a millennia under my wings and a reputation of conquer over the majority of my lifespan. Will you now give me the proper respect and give me your Clan, Iron-blood?"
The raven-haired Stormwing snarled. "Over my dead body, and the dead body of my King!"
She smirked. "Good. I'm always up for a good fight."
With that, she charged at Opai. The queen dodged. "You need to be faster than that to defeat me."
She flew higher up to gain a height advantage. Jalina was almost as quick — almost.
The raven-haired Stormwing stopped mid-air for half a second and dropped, talons first, to embed them in the newcomer's chest. But she didn't see that her claws would meet with claws as well.
They grabbed onto each other, both of them shrieking as they tumbled toward the ground. At the last minute, they parted, malice in their eyes as they glared at their opponent.
"Shouldn't we help her?" a new girl named Shance squeaked, stepping from one talon to the other.
"No," Chalawo said evenly. "This fight is for the queen; if we help, the honor of the Clan is forfeited."
Shance pouted, feathers ruffling uncomfortably. "I still don't think this is—"
"Do not interfere," he said firmly, setting fiery green eyes on the novice. "Only the Queen can settle this, and if she fails, I will be the one to take her place in this duel."
She gulped and gave up her debate."Yes, Chalawo."
When the others looked back up, both Jalina and Opai were in bad shape. Jalina was missing an eye and Opai had a few scratches on her chest.
"You realize that you won't win this one, right?" the pink-haired Stormwing yelled.
Their Queen couldn't waste precious breath to insult her; she charged at her, claws first.
She spun quickly— too quick to watch without getting dizzy.
Is this your strategy? Opai sneered inwardly. Get yourself dizzy? Pathetic.
But the ball of sharp-as-tack steel moved closer and closer. The violet-eyed female couldn't move. Rikash yelled her name. So did Kitanni, Tsilanso, Shance. She didn't react.
"Opai! Move!" It was Chalawo who yelled above the crowd.
She flinched, but couldn't. Whatever spell Jalina had set on her wouldn't budge. The yells of her clan were heard, loud and clear, in her mind. But she couldn't move.
Chalawo was in tears, throat on fire as he yelled for her to get out of the way.
A breathless moment as a sole scream tore through their meadow. Silent tears racing down cheeks. Crazy smile permanently etched on the victor's lips. The remains falling to the ground.
"I always win."
The meadow erupted in screams drenched in rage and sorrow. Their Queen— the one that they'd always thought peerless, amazing, the best— was defeated. This must've been a folly.
"You really are a lot of ignorant Iron-Bloods," she sneered to the crowd. She didn't seem to mind the blood splattered on her feathers and her skin; it was like she was used to it. "I'll make you all strong. I'll build you up until you can fight against other clans properly. You'll see. You'll thank me."
No 'thank you's' were uttered. Silence fell. Even the birds decided it was the wrong time to chirp.
"You wench." The statement came from Chalawo's lips, his eyes blue-green and filled with hunger for revenge. "Cheat. Trollop. Randy. Trull. Scut. Sarden true-blood."
"What did you say?" she said through gritted teeth.
Everyone looked at their King.
"Why are you here, anyways? You got kicked out of your clan, didn't you?" Chalawo spat on the ground.
"I was too good for them," Jalina sneered. "They couldn't live up to my name."
"You don't deserve my clan. Leave, before I decide that you should be disposed of— like a noble or not."
Rikash looked at the brunet anxiously. He'd never seen his best friend with such a scary expression.
She smirked. "Come at me."
But she was overconfident.
Chalawo charged, aiming at her chest. The air was knocked out of her chest. "That's a good one, laddy. But—"
He attacked again, grabbing her by the shoulders with his claws. He spun her around and flew to the nearest cliff. When he was about to drop her, she looked up.
"I'm honored," she said, nose bloody. "So you use this technique because you can't beat me otherwise."
"Then that means you used your technique because you knew you couldn't beat Opai fairly." Fire burned in his eyes; maybe it wouldn't ever go away.
"Very well. Do it. Drop me off this cliff."
For Opai, he thought solemnly. Anything.
He let go, Stormwing shrieks reaching his ears but not truly being processed. She couldn't help herself up. She was too dizzy, and too drained of her magic.
When Chalawo came back to an anxious flock, they crowded him and asked if he was okay. He didn't reply; he didn't want to lie but he also didn't want them to worry.
After their ordeal, Chalawo was unable to continue his duty as King— not without Opai on the throne beside him. Rikash took over and they had Jessabella come in to do his hair in braids and fix it up with bones. But the brunette could sense the dread in the atmosphere and kept silent.
"Will you still follow me, although I am not your original Queen?" Tsilanso said, looking down her nose at the new King of the clan.
She had learned her lessons well. In times of duty, she must think of the clan and the clan alone. Bias remarks and actions were meant for times of friendship. This clearly wasn't one of those times.
"Yes," Rikash said solemnly. "By Stormwing law, I will obey you. Because I am a noble Stormwing; not because I fear your abilities."
She spat on the stone floor. "Well said."
They were under a fixed mourning time after that. One decade or so was required to pass before they could go back to her burial site once more: the meadow.
Rainy days were passed in the same manner. Sundays were spent as free time. Tsilanso's reign didn't differ from Opai's at all— except for one thing. One thing was missing; something no one could replace.
It was a word that Chalawo said in his sleep often, sometimes accompanied with tears. Rikash only said this once. Neither really liked the topic.
The blond Stormwing began to miss home, the child he never got to see, the family that was broken by the death of one person, the happiness and unity that once existed. Was this how stormwings turned bitter?
Or were they mostly born like that, black ink contaminating their heart from rage, jealousy of humans, emptiness. Was this how stormwings turned bitter?
Decades, even centuries, passed. They healed; they grew; they got stronger. They'd visit Opai's remains every decade or so to pay respects, although she was already gone from the living world. Rikash stepped down from the throne and allowed one of his trainees to replace him.
Time, Rikash decided. Time and change. These are the two attributes that have made me bitter.
"Chalawo?" Rikash asked one rainy day. Thunder roared overhead and lightning flashed to illuminate every nook and cranny for half a second.
"Do you enjoy being a stormwing nowadays?"
Silence fell as Rikash studied the once-king's face. If there was a percentage for recovery, he was only at seventy percent even after all those years.
"Not much," he said simply. "I make the best of it because I know that after we immortals die, we don't know what's next. I like to stay where we know what will happen."
"I suppose so…"
So much change has taken place; too much time has passed. In the end, he had gotten his dream, his fantasy. But he also lost so much in exchange— all against his own will.
Time, Rikash decided. Time and change. These are the two attributes that have made me bitter.
This was how a Stormwing turned bitter.
(A/N) Hello, my precious readers.
This is just a little fic about Rikash's early life as a Stormwing. It's placed before the H.E. started. :) And reviews are (as always) most welcome! :D