Twin Feathers: Chapter 12

See all “Twin Feathers” chapters here. Prefer Wattpad? Read here!

Not a single gryphon dared approach them as they navigated through the shattered city. Some gryphons continued to watch from the sidelines, scrutinizing Kusarel and Elkeri with wary eyes. Others squawked and fluttered away once they saw Kusarel, a few throwing seething curses at her before slinking off. Their words made her feathers stand on edge, her whole body shivering from a strange mixture of shame and dread.

“Don’t let them get to you,” Elkeri whispered, scowling at the latest harasser before they slipped into the shadows. “You haven’t done anything wrong.”

She murmured a quick thanks, but that didn’t squelch her feelings of guilt. She may not have done anything, but the citizens here thought she was apparently related to Apael, whoever he was. And their judgment made her want to apologize, explaining she didn’t mean them any harm and she was sorry for whatever this Apael had done.

Of course, no one was going to give her that chance, so she kept plodding behind Elkeri, trying to keep her gaze focused on her friend.

“Any idea where Xaiel might be?” Kusarel piped up, more as a distraction than anything.

“Beats me. This whole place is a mess. He could be anywhere.” Elkeri kicked a pile of rubble at her feet, sending it straight into a torn-down statue of a gryphon, covered in silver armor. Looking closer, Kusarel could see the “armor” was actually part of its skin, as though the gryphon had been born with metal instead of feathers in some areas.

“Godslayer statue,” Elkeri noted, giving it an admiring look. “No wonder this city is known for rebellion, though. The gryphons here must really hate the Empress.”

“Why is its skin like that?” Kusarel asked, still staring at the dust-covered statue. Something about the apparent fusion of armor into its body made her feel uncomfortable, like she was looking at something unnatural.

Elkeri gave her a funny look, one ear cocked back in disbelief, before she let out a hoot of laughter. “Right, we hung out with different groups. I forgot you wouldn’t know much about the Godslayer. Too sheltered.”

“Mother would have shrieked if I spent time with your friends,” she muttered, feeling a bit defensive.

“Oh, trust me, I know. That’s what made them so much fun,” Elkeri chuckled. “But anyway, that’s the Godslayer’s power. Armor and insane strength. It makes them a beast, great for taking out corrupt rulers. If only we had one today,” she added under her breath, glowering at the ruins around them.

She was about to hiss at Elkeri not to declare treason in public when a high-pitched scream rattled through the air, filled with sheer terror. They both froze on the spot, one of Kusarel’s front claws dangling in the air as she stopped mid-step.

“Did you hear that?” she stuttered, forcing the words out as she tried to move her beak as little as possible.

“No Kusarel, I went deaf for a second and missed the eardrum-popping scream,” Elkeri snapped back, pupils dilated.

She started to apologize when the wailing came again, broken up by racking sobs. Above it she heard the shouting of another gryphon, coming from the same location.

“Please, sir, he’s just a cub! We don’t need to hurt him.”

A cold voice boomed over the others, piercing under Kusarel’s skin like a ragged knife. “The Empress ordered all members of the resistance and their family to be executed. That includes the cub. Defying her is an act of treason, soldier.”

Elkeri made choked noises, as though something was lodged in her throat. “Is that…Kusarel, did you hear?”

She wanted to come up with a sarcastic retort now that Elkeri was asking if she had heard, but the thought of the booming voice stilled her tongue. There was something not quite right about that voice, something so unsettling that it made her insides twist in on themselves. It sounded incredibly familiar, like she had heard it many, many times in the past, but never like that, with that mix between cruelty and apathy. She knew deep down that the voice should never sound like that, but why on earth would she feel that way?

It clicked.

“That was Xaiel!” she squeaked, nearly falling over as her whole body began to shiver and tremble.

“So I’m not going crazy. But Xaiel…would never say something like that,” Elkeri said, staring off in the direction of the voices. She threw her head back to fix Kusarel with a determined glance, then reared back and shot into the sky. “We’re going over there. Now.”

Kusarel flared her wings and followed after her, though she was shaking so badly that she feared she would fall straight out of the sky. That was him, wasn’t it? But…it sounded like he wanted to kill that cub. Because the Empress ordered it…?

By the sky, Xaiel, what’s going on?

A few moments later and they zipped over a line of buildings, landing in the remains of a plaza. A lone cub pressed himself against the wall of a house, covering his eyes with stubby little claws as he howled in fear. In front of him stood a soldier, protecting the cub from another gryphon with silver and black feathers just like Kusarel’s. His back was to Kusarel, but she didn’t need to see his face to know immediately it was her brother.

“If you don’t stand aside now, I’m reporting you for treason,” Xaiel thundered in a deep voice. The soldier winced, but continued to stand his ground as he blocked the cub from harm.

“Xaiel! What is WRONG with you?” Elkeri screeched, making both the cub and the soldier jump. Kusarel scrambled back before recovering herself, stepping forward to stand next to her friend. He’s your brother, Kusarel! I’m sure we can figure out what’s going on. Don’t be afraid.

Her mental reassurances didn’t do much to calm the sinking feeling that something was very, very wrong. Maybe that wasn’t Xaiel…maybe this was the strange, foreign Apael.

But he sounded just like Xaiel and looked just like him. How would Xaiel have a twin like this?

Her mind continued to spin as the silver and black gryphon turned around, zeroing in on the two of them with bright, frigid eyes. Kusarel couldn’t help but take a step back, her internal pep talk vanishing under that alien stare. Those were Xaiel’s eyes, physically, at least. But his eyes had never contained such malice and scrutiny, like a predator examining the prey before it.

“Who are you talking to?” Understanding seemed to snap into place in those hateful eyes, and he advanced forward with his shoulders arched like a hyena, talons spread wide as they dug into the dirt. “That’s the name of the cub, isn’t it? You know him, which means you must be part of the resistance, too.”

Even Elkeri seemed to be at a loss for words, her beak moving soundlessly. She looked at Kusarel out of the corner of her eyes, begging her to say something.

With her tail curled between her legs, Kusarel managed to say, “Xaiel, she’s talking to you. You know Elkeri. Right?”

She hated the way her voice curved upward at the end, squeaking like the mice she would hunt for afternoon snacks. Still, she managed to keep herself from fleeing the other way, locking her muscles into place even as every part of her screamed to get out now.

Those eyes shifted away from Elkeri to land on her. A few seconds passed in a silent staredown until his look started to change; some of the malice slipped away, replaced by confusion and what almost seemed to be surprise. He stepped forward once again, this time straight at her with that same wolf-like slink.

“Who are you? You look just like me.” He continued to examine her with that unfaltering gaze, adding, “And you seem very familiar. But I can’t place you.”

A squawk tore from Kusarel’s beak before she could stop herself, shock and horror overriding her fear. “You’re my brother, Xaiel! Stop kidding around already. Now isn’t the time for your jokes and you know it!”

He ruffled his feathers and replied, “I don’t joke. And I am most definitely not your brother. The Empress told me I have no family, other than her.”

Her mind went blank at his words, unable to process or understand what he was saying. What is he talking about? What’s wrong with him?

“Are…are you Apael?” she asked in a quivering voice. She lowered her eyes to his beak, the exact same shade of gray as Xaiel’s, the same length, the same tiny little scar from when a branch whacked him head-on back in their cub days.

He tilted his head to the side, staring at her with one eye. Her stomach nearly heaved as she saw, with a shivering tingle, that his beak was serrated like a butcher’s knife.

That’s not like Xaiel, not at all. That’s not normal. She had never seen a gryphon with a jagged beak like that. It was uncanny, unnatural.

“Yes, I’m Apael. The Claw of the Empress. I serve her with full loyalty.”

She couldn’t take it any longer. Weeks of being away from her family, of wondering if she’d ever see any of them again, ate away at the reason in her mind. Filled with roaring desperation, she spread her wings and jumped forward to embrace him, just like she had done many times in the past. “Please, Xaiel, I’ve missed you so–“

Her words cut into a howl of pain as something slashed across her face, ripping into her skin and tearing apart her flesh bit by bit. Blood dripped down into her eyes as she vaguely processed the fact that his claws were now serrated too, apparently. She didn’t have time to feel revulsion as Apael pounced on her, throwing her to the ground as he beat his wings.

“Traitor! You attack me, you attack the Empress!” he roared, that horrible jagged beak leering right up into her face. He jabbed the point down to ram into her throat, but she rolled away and kicked at him with her hindlegs, sending him careening away.

“She wasn’t attacking you, idiot! She was trying to hug you!” Elkeri shouted, lurching forward. Apael sprung to his feet with terrifying speed and lunged at Kusarel again before Elkeri could intervene, talons curled and aiming for her throat once again. The thought of fleeing fluttered through her mind, but there was no time. She tucked in her wings and barreled out of the way, and before Apael could recover, she bore down on him, pinning his torso down with her front claws. He bellowed and kicked at her, but she kept her weight pressed down on him, doing her best to keep her talons from drawing blood. Elkeri appeared at her side, standing right next to her.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you. I just wanted–“

Taking advantage of her distraction, Apael whipped his head and stabbed his beak into her chest. The edges ripped open a gaping wound, and another wave of pain laced through her as she yelped and fell back. His eyes appeared over her, full of killing intent, and he raised a claw to slash her once again.

“Enough already!” Elkeri cried as she stamped her claws down on the ground. A thick vine reared to life from the soil and wound around Apael’s legs, wrenching him back and away from Kusarel.

“What? How did you do that?” Apael craned his head back to stare at the vine, finally seeming to have been zapped back to reality.

“Farmer powers. It’s what I do.”

He looked at her like she was a crazed, flighty parrot. “Farmers don’t fight.”

“Well, this one does,” Elkeri said with a hint of exasperation. “And lay off Kusarel already. YOU’RE the one who started the fight, not her.”

Kusarel leapt back as Apael rose to his feet in a jerky fashion, tearing at the vines with that cruel beak. “She clearly came at me with the intention to fight. Who approaches someone with spread wings like that?”

Family does, Kusarel thought with a heavy heart. The realization that this wasn’t Xaiel–or at least, not Xaiel as she knew him–was slowly starting to set in, as much as she wanted to deny it.

“Oh, drop it already! She had you pinned. She could have torn open your belly, but she didn’t.”

Apael blinked multiple times, fixing Kusarel with a curious gaze. “That’s true…hmm.” With a fluff of his feathers, he turned his back to them and glanced over his shoulder. “I’ll let it slide, then. Besides, I have work to do.” He kept his eyes locked on Kusarel, something soft seeping into his expression. “You really do look familiar, though.”

And with that, he took off into the air, the gusts from his powerful wings making Kusarel stagger. As he left, her adrenaline rush started to drip away, and she felt the full brunt of the fresh wounds on her chest and face. Whimpering, she lowered herself to the ground, her vision becoming dark and hazy.

“Kusarel? Hey, Kusarel! Are you alright?”

She heard someone calling her in the distance, probably Elkeri. But the sound was too muddled, like it was coming through water from somewhere far off. She tried to at least reply back, but her tongue wouldn’t listen to her as her mind grew foggy. The last thing she saw was Elkeri leaning over her before she slipped away into unconsciousness.

© Nadine Anton “The Feathered Pagan”

Read Chapter 13

One-Week Hiatus

Hey all! Just wanted to let everyone know that Twin Feathers will be on hiatus this week. I had a medical procedure done yesterday and need to take the rest of the week to rest and recover. I’ll be back next week with Chapter 12. Thanks everyone for your patience!

Twin Feathers: Chapter 11

See all “Twin Feathers” chapters here. Prefer Wattpad? Read here!

The air stank of smoke and blood. Kusarel felt her lungs heave and burn from the thick air as she finally landed outside Rivel, tottering a bit to the side. She heard a thud to her left, followed by heavy panting–Elkeri, beak splayed open as she gasped for breath. The flight from Tremora to Rivel had only been a day, but the polluted air made it feel as though it had been three times longer.

“My lungs feel like they’re on fire! This place really is a mess,” Elkeri hissed, jerking her head toward Rivel. Like Tremora, walls flanked this city on all sides, stabbing far up into the sky. Unlike Tremora, gaping holes leered from the walls, exposing broken buildings and smog on the other side. Hordes of soldiers were stationed at these gaps, and more than a few of them seemed to be glaring in their direction.

Kusarel hadn’t even managed to recover enough air to respond when she felt a sharp point digging into her wing. With a yelp, she jolted back against Elkeri, almost forcing her to the ground.

“Kusarel, what on earth–” Elkeri started, only to sputter off suddenly as her eyes fixed on something behind Kusarel. Or, more accurately, someone.

“Hold it you two, unless you want a spear through your wings,” growled a deep voice. Kusarel peered up to make eye contact with a guard, towering over the two of them with a vicious glower. She jabbed the spear into her side again, and this time, Kusarel saw all the caked blood over its jagged edge.

“I’m on the horned one, Iona,” another guard spoke from the side. Kusarel glanced over and saw Elkeri had a spear pointed to her throat now, every bit as brutal in appearance as the first. Instead of fighting back, her friend stood as still as possible, eyes widened and ears straight up. The sight made Kusarel’s breath come faster; if Elkeri was scared, they were in deep trouble.

“State your business now,” the first guard, Iona, snapped.

Still struggling for breath and frozen from fear, she could only let out a strangled little chirp. Elkeri cleared her throat a few times before finally speaking, her voice filled with an unusual strain.

“We’re here to meet a relative. A guard at Tremora told us he was here.”

The second guard gave a bitter laugh, the force thrusting the spear just a bit closer to Elkeri’s throat.

“No one comes to Rivel to meet someone, unless they’re rebels and thieves. So, which one are you?”

Kusarel inched toward Elkeri, pressing up against her side. Her heart hammered so violently she feared her veins would pop, ending her life before the guards could even thrust their weapons through her. She raised her head a small bit, looking up at Iona once again. This time, the guard had an odd look on her face as she scrutinized Kusarel, as though trying to place her. Kusarel met her gaze for an instant, and she saw uncertainty lurking there, muddying the rage and authority that had been there moments before.

“Hakel, wait a minute–” Iona began, but the second guard drowned her out as she snarled at Elkeri, throwing insults and threats with gleaming eyes. Elkeri only stood there in perfect stillness, avoiding eye contact with her harasser.

“You know what we do with your kind? Sometimes, we lock them up for life. But if I have it MY way…”

“Hakel–“

Hakel finally shut her beak and glared at her partner, swishing her tail through the air. “Fine. What’s so important?”

“This gryphon.” Iona poked a talon at Kusarel, her claw quivering so much she grazed her side.

Why is she shaking? I’m about as unintimidating as you can get. She looked down at her own shaking legs, her fear plain for all to see.

“What about her?” The guard squinted at Kusarel, first in disdain and then confusion. She cocked her head to the side, scratching her ear. “…Huh. She does look familiar.”

“More than familiar. She looks like Apael.”

The air went still, silent except for the crackling of flames somewhere in the distance. Hakel continued to stare at Kusarel, puzzlement changing to shock and then fear as recognition clicked in her eyes. Kusarel and Elkeri shot each other a glance, silently asking one another what was going on. A few moments passed before Elkeri turned away and spoke up, straightening her shoulders and spreading her wings just enough to give the air of confidence.

“Oh, you finally noticed. Kusarel here is Apael’s cousin. She’s here to meet him.”

Who on earth is Apael? Kusarel inwardly screamed, but she kept her beak clamped shut. Elkeri seemed to think they had an in, and she trusted her judgment.

Both guards leapt back like they had been caressed with a torch. Hakel let out stuttered sounds as she dropped her spear, backing away from the two of them.

“I…I’m so sorry! I didn’t know. Please forgive me!”

“Forgive us,” Iona corrected, bowing her head. With her feathers and wings pressed against her sides in terror, the guard looked like only a sliver of her size from before.

“Forgive you?” Elkeri started, swelling up and clicking her beak. “You didn’t even give us a chance to explain ourselves! Calling us criminals. What would Apael think of that, huh?”

Both of the guards muttered hasty apologies and bowed lower.

“Any punishment Apael inflicts on us is just, being the Claw of the Empress. We await his judgment.”

What are they babbling about? Why are they so afraid? Kusarel tried to meet eyes with Elkeri again, but her friend kept her gaze locked on the guards, once again filled with blazing energy.

“Glad to hear it. Now let us into Rivel already. We don’t want to keep him waiting any longer.”

With frantic squeaks, the guards scurried forward and lifted the gate open, Iona trembling so much her claws slipped off the metal multiple times.

Kusarel felt guilt prick at her insides as she watched them, wanting nothing more than to apologize and let them know they were safe. She knew doing so would be incredibly risky, though, so she continued to keep quiet and trotted along after Elkeri, who strutted through the entrance with her beak pointed to the sky.

As they passed, the guards flared their wings in a salute and yelled in perfect unison, “Hail the Empress! All glory to our Lady Ardhelia!”

She only gave a small nod, but that seemed to be enough. As soon as their tails flicked through the entrance, the guards slammed the gate down and scampered away, giving them no time to say anything else. They were finally alone.

“Kusarel, be honest with me. Do you have family out here?” Elkeri said in a low voice. Now that the guards were out of sight, she held her shoulders hunched and tense, walking close to the ground in a stealth-like stance. A quick look around explained her behavior; all around them loomed decrepit buildings, half-burned and crumbling. Abandoned belongings littered the cracked path, many so marred Kusarel could no longer tell what they once were. From the shadows, she thought she could make out gryphons watching them, flitting away as soon as she looked their way.

“Not that I know of,” she finally managed to respond. She tried to keep her voice as quiet as possible, but it seemed to echo throughout the city, splitting the silence around them. With a wince, she quickened her pace so she was right by Elkeri’s side.

“Weird, just weird,” her friend mumbled, almost to herself. “I guess it’s possible this Apael is a long-lost relative, right?”

While the thought of meeting any family should have filled her with joy, she only felt a tight knot in her chest. Even if he is a relative, those soldiers were so scared. Do I want to meet him?

As though reading her thoughts, Elkeri added, “Let’s try to steer clear of him, ok? We’ll meet Xaiel and fly out before this mystery gryphon has any idea we’re here.”

Kusarel murmured her agreement, more than willing to keep her distance. Anyone who could make guards cower like that had to be dangerous…and, judging by the wasteland around her, she had more than enough danger to suit her just fine. The thought of her brother fighting here, forced to battle in this forsaken place, made bile rise in the back of her throat.

Where are you, Xaiel?

Please, please be okay.

© Nadine Anton “The Feathered Pagan”

Read Chapter 12

Twin Feathers: Chapter 10

See all “Twin Feathers” chapters here. Prefer Wattpad? Read here!

It took only a week in Tremora for Kusarel to learn a painful lesson: No matter where they went, they would always be second-class gryphons at best.

The inn that finally accepted them was a run-down old shack, with thin walls and no doors to shield them from eyesight–anyone could walk down the hall and see all the gryphons sleeping there, the walls between them only giving the illusion of privacy. Between the two of them, they hardly had enough space in their “room” to turn around, eerily similar to Elkeri’s den back at home. Still, as cramped and uncomfortable as they were, it was still far better than going out in the city.

Just about everywhere they went, the other gryphons either ignored them like they were invisible or shot them disgusted glares. More than a few stared at Kusarel openly, their eyes gawking at her lack of power feathers. It was clear they were wondering if she was an adult blank, and the thought made her want to curl up and hide herself from view, far from their judging looks. Even Elkeri, with all her inner fire, couldn’t stand up to them anymore; after more than a few screaming matches with merchants who refused to sell them even the most basic of goods, they had resorted to staying in the slums, only purchasing the muck that was allowed for the lowest of gryphons, some water, and a scratchy patch of hay to throw in their inn room.

Kusarel flexed her legs and rammed straight into Elkeri’s stomach, making her friend hiss and glare at her. Her feathers drooped with crud from a week of not washing, unable to find a bathhouse or local river they were allowed to use. Kusarel herself didn’t look much better, and the build-up of dirt around her talons drove her nearly mad; no matter how she scrubbed at the grime, it refused to come off without water, and neither of them were willing to waste the little drinking water they had on bathing.

“I swear Kusarel, if you kick me one more time, I’m pushing you out of here,” Elkeri growled, flicking her ears back.

She muttered a quick apology and tucked her legs underneath her, squishing herself into a tight little ball. The agitation from being in a foreign place made her want to pace back and forth or fidget, yet she had no choice but to sit with as little motion as possible.

Still, it was getting close to Xaiel’s arrival…today was the day he should be arriving. She couldn’t wait to wrap her wings around him, maybe poke him with a talon in good fun like they did in the old days. Any hint of normalcy sounded amazing to her right now.

“Elkeri, do you think we can head down to the gate? Xaiel should be here soon.”

“Is that today?” Elkeri’s ears perked up and she leapt to her feet, making Kusarel squawk as she pushed herself against the wall to make room. “Dear Godslayer, let’s get out of here!”

Elkeri nearly pranced down the hall as she ran out of the inn, the other visitors casting her disgruntled glances at her obvious enthusiasm. Kusarel followed behind at a slower pace, doing her best to keep her head down–if she lowered it enough, other gryphons may not notice her lack of power feathers. And the less attention I get, the better. I don’t need anyone questioning me. Let’s just get out of her quietly.

“Come on, Kusarel! We’re gonna get OUT of this dump!” Elkeri called with an excited trill, gathering the attention of the gryphons on the path outside as they stared at the two of them.

Or Elkeri can just shout at the top of her lungs for everyone to hear. That works too, she thought wryly, but her exhaustion kept her from berating Elkeri. She didn’t have the energy for an argument.

The two of them arrived back at the main gate half an hour later, Elkeri humming to herself the whole way. They stopped right at the entrance, and the same two guards from before waved at them.

“Oh, the farmer and the cub! Ready to head out?” one of the guards asked, the same one who had chewed out Elkeri for being on vacation. The other guard just gave them a mild look, clearly relaxed and not too interested in their presence.

“No, we’re waiting for someone. Her brother.” Elkeri jerked a claw toward Kusarel, who stepped back and murmured something unintelligible. “His name’s Xaiel. Have you seen him?”

Both guards shook their heads. “Nope, no one with that name has come through. What’s he look like?”

“Just like Kusarel here.”

He clucked and gave an apologetic shrug. “Nah, haven’t seen him. Feel free to camp here for the day, though. It’s the only way in, so you’ll see him right away when he arrives.”

Elkeri inclined her head and Kusarel gave a quick, quiet thanks. The two of them sat down on their haunches and waited, happy to have the fresh breeze ruffle through their feathers. The sun beat down on Kusarel’s back, and she unfolded her wings to let them soak in all the warm rays. After a week of being cooped up, she felt pure bliss wash over her as she reclined outside, free at last. And with the guards right next to them, none of the other townsfolk dared give them trouble.

This is heaven. I could sit here for hours.

And she did—straight through the evening and well into nightfall. The sun had long disappeared, replaced by the glimmering half moon. The wind now had a cold bite to it, making Kusarel shiver and nuzzle closer to Elkeri. The main guard gave them a sympathetic look and gestured toward the path, barely stifling a yawn.

“I don’t think your brother’s coming, young’un. Head back to the inn and try again tomorrow, ok?”

Elkeri got up and nodded, stretching like a cat with her claws forward and tail in the air. Distraught, Kusarel followed after her as they returned to the inn, nervous thoughts chattering in her mind.

“Why didn’t he show up?” she asked, unable to keep the quaver out of her voice. “Do you think he got hurt?”

Her friend just gave a huge yawn as she fluffed her wings. “He’s probably fine. It’s normal to get stalled for a day or two.”

The next day came and went, with still no sign of Xaiel. And the next, and the next. Every day they sat by the gate with the guards, who gave them sympathetic looks as more time passed.

“You sure he was going to meet you at Tremora?”

“We’re sure,” Elkeri said, though Kusarel could hear the tight worry rippling beneath her words.

“Well, just to be sure, I’ll send out messages to the guards at nearby cities. See if any of them have seen him.”

Kusarel chirped in appreciation, and even Elkeri curled her tail in a sign of approval. As patronizing as he may have been at the beginning, the guard did seem to care at least somewhat, which made her feel just a bit better about staying in such a strange place.

A few more days passed until it had been a full week and a half since they first started waiting for Xaiel. They trudged back down to the gate once again, the sun just barely peeking over the horizon, dotted with those unusual thin trees. The guard with the notepad perked up and waved to them, running over.

“You two, we heard back from the other guards.”

“And?” Elkeri demanded, not even bothering to sound polite. Her eyes had a shuttered look to them, and her tail dragged on the ground. Kusarel could tell she was still half asleep, just barely pulling herself along at this early hour.

“Good news–one of them spotted a gryphon who looks just like you, cub,” the guard said, pointing a claw at Kusarel. She felt her heart surge up, filled with renewed hope she hadn’t felt for well over a couple weeks.

“Oh, thank you so much! Where is he…sir?” Kusarel just barely remember to tack on the “sir” at the end, so overcome with excitement. They found him! He’s ok! I can’t wait to see him again.

“Well…” he coughed and looked away, rifling the papers in his notepad. “See, that’s the bad news. Your brother’s apparently in Rivel.”

Both Elkeri and Kusarel whipped their heads to stare at each other, remembering the warning Xaiel had given: Stay out of Rivel.

“But…isn’t that city violent right now?” Kusarel asked.

“Exactly. Sounds like it’s gotten much worse, too. The guard was pretty terrified, said there’s a lot of fighting and it’s not safe. He was vague though, that’s for sure.”

Elkeri let out a deep sigh, a sound that seemed to well up from a canyon inside her. “Well, that’s just lovely. I guess Xaiel is a soldier. He’s probably fighting there with the others.”

Kusarel’s mind churned, trying to figure out what to do. On one claw, she wanted to meet up with her brother now. The more time that passed without them being reunited, the more anxious she felt. On the other claw, he made it clear to stay far away from Rivel. Was it worth going there?

“Elkeri, what should we do?” she managed to voice, looking at her friend for guidance. Surely she would take the lead, make it clear what should be done.

Instead, Elkeri only drooped her wings as she leaned back on her hindlegs, scratching at her bleary eyes. “I don’t know, Kusarel. He’s your brother. What do YOU want to do?”

Me? The thought made her brain freeze. I have to choose?

She peered at Elkeri with wide, pleading eyes, but Elkeri only returned her gaze in silence. It was all up to her.

“We could keep waiting here,” Kusarel stammered, squinting at Elkeri to see if this was the right thing to say.

“If you want,” she replied in a dejected voice. “I’m not gonna lie, I’m not sure when he’ll be getting here. But if you want to hold out, we can.”

Kusarel glanced at the guard, who only shrugged and looked back at his notepad. She clicked her beak in agitation, walking in tight circles as she paced at the gate.

What do I want to do?

She thought back to the sorrow on her mother’s face and her brother’s insistence that they would make everything work out. Already, she missed seeing her family, even with all the drama and tension. Xaiel especially had always made her feel at ease, at home even when everything else was uncertain.

She just wanted to feel at home again.

And what if he was hurt? He’s probably fighting right now. If he gets injured, will he be ok? If he’s in danger, I have to help him.

She may not have any powers, but she couldn’t just leave her brother to fend for himself. He hadn’t even sent them a messenger warning them of his delay; something was clearly wrong.

Feeling her blood quicken, she stopped her pacing and said, “Elkeri, let’s go to Rivel.”

Elkeri blinked at her, her claw still on her face. “Say what now?”

“To Rivel. I want to see Xaiel now.”

“You want to go to the city of death and destruction?” Elkeri said in a flat voice, slapping her tail a few times for effect.

“Oh, um, I guess you’re right,” she said, backing away a bit and inclining her head. “Sorry.”

With a grunt, Elkeri rose to her feet and trod over to her, cuffing her on the shoulder. “Don’t apologize. If you want to go, we’ll go. I just wasn’t expecting it, you know?”

Trust me, I feel the same way. Every inch of her screamed to stay in Tremora, far away from whatever danger lurked in Rivel. It was safe here, even if it was uncomfortable and the citizens wanted them doing nothing but working the fields. They weren’t at any real risk if they kept their wings tucked in and tails between their legs.

But the thought of Xaiel out there, fighting without friends or family in a strange city, made her heart ache, stronger than her fear. She did her best to drown out the wailing voice in her head, begging her to stay put and keep waiting for a day that may never come.

“Alright. Let’s go, Elkeri.”

© Nadine Anton “The Feathered Pagan”

Read Chapter 11