The Creator's Eye: Mover of Fate, Part I, page 20
The trail up the mountain was not particularly arduous, but Michael’s muscles were still sore from his beating the day before. They had left the club well before dawn, so barely had time to rest. They needed to reach Caral before the invasion began.
They could not chance carrying a torch as they climbed, as they would have stuck out clearly against the dark mountainside. Michael carefully watched his steps. Fortunately, it was a bright night and the nearly full moon illuminated the ground with its silvery light.
They left their packs behind, taking only their weapons and what they needed to get through the day. They had to avoid extra weight if they were going to use the roak feathers. By the end of the day, they would either be captured or aboard a ship heading for freedom. Either way, they would have no need for their gear.
Daniels led the way up the hill while Grant quietly sang an unfamiliar song about jokers, thieves, and businessmen. Michael assumed that it was something from the mainland.
Then all of a sudden, Grant stopped singing and cleared his throat. “Huh,” he mused. “I just realized something. You guys are aliens.”
Michael stopped walking for a moment to consider this. “I guess we are,” he said.
Sefu walked by them. “It is generally believed that humans on Earth and Geminon share a common ancestry. The histories of Aaru imply that travel between the two was once quite common.”
“Whatever,” Grant smirked. “When we get to America, I’m going to make a fortune selling photos of you to the National Enquirer!”
“No one will believe you,” Sefu said dryly. “We look too human.”
“Hmm…” thought Grant scratching his chin, “Do you suppose there’s a friendly demon out there who would agree to a photo shoot?”
“What’s it like on the mainland?” Michael asked Sefu, curious about the world beyond the Shield Fold. “Will we be able to Move there?”
“People can Move anywhere,” answered Sefu. “It’s just that the Folds around Arimbol make it much easier to learn. The effects of the Babel Fold will also stay with us for some time.”
Michael was glad to hear that. He had managed to learn so much about Moving in the past week that he would have hated to lose it. He had also worried about trying to explain their emergency without the aid of their xenoglossy.
Despite the cool early morning air, the climb made them put up an impressive sweat. Persistent black flies clung to them no matter how vigorously they swatted them away.
“Couldn’t my dad have made this place without all the bugs?” Michael complained as he smacked away one determined to discover the wonders of his inner ear canal.
“The birds and frogs need them,” commented Grant.
Sefu, meanwhile, charged up his staff and zapped the air around him with an electric field. All of the flies around him instantly dropped dead.
“That will teach them!” he sneered.
“That’s a harsh lesson just for being annoying,” observed Grant with a smart-alecky tone. “Imagine if we dealt with people that way.” He made a deep, doltish voice, ‘Did you hear about Billy? He said that stupid knock-knock joke again, so they sent him to the chair!’”
Sefu glanced at Grant. He looked uncertain if Grant actually sympathized with the insects. He spoke plainly, “They’re no different than the demons. They’re a plague.”
Having hiked the Morningstar Range dozens of times, the explorers knew the trail very well. Daniels even claimed to have visited the roak nests on numerous occasions. When Michael asked if he had ever hang-glided using their feathers, he said, “No, but I’m sure it can be done,” which was not particularly reassuring.
Michael realized what a big risk they were taking. Besides the feathers not working, they might be flying right into a battle. The boats could all be sunk or burned to cinders before they even got there.
The first beams of sunlight reached out from the east. The morning mists began to clear and to the north Michael could see far across Zion Forest until the trees thinned against the Burnt Plains. He could make out the shimmer of the Hattusa River in the distance as it wound through the land, disappearing and re-emerging behind cliffs and trees like a silver suture.
“We have to hurry!” said Grant, returning Michael’s attention to the task at hand.
With the first light, the demons may have begun their assault on the town, so they picked up the pace.
The trail ended at a rocky ridge that extended beyond sight in either direction. Boulders and jagged stone spires worn from the wind and weather clawed at the sky.
“There’s the roak nest!” said Daniels pointing to a tangle of bushes and trees amidst the crags.
At first Michael could not tell what he was indicating, but he could smell it― like salt and rotting fish. He watched Maya cover her mouth with her hand. He, too, pulled his collar up over his nose. It helped a little, but his shirt did not smell like petunias either after several days on the run.
He kept trying to see the nest amidst the tangle of branches, but could not make it out. Then he realized the order to the branches. They followed an elliptical whirl, weaving in and out of each other, like a massive basket nestled between two mountain peaks.
“Looks like nobody’s home,” observed Grant.
Daniels went ahead, crouching as he pushed his way through the undergrowth. It was impossible to see over the tall walls of the nest from where they stood. Michael wondered if the bird could be hidden there, lying down inside.
As Daniels neared it, Michael realized how truly massive it was. The top of the nest stood well above the Kerouac’s head.
“All clear!” he called to them. “Mamma’s gone!”
The group made their way through the underbrush and up to the rocky peak. Michael walked up to the nest and marveled at its scale. He placed his hand on a rather large tree trunk and wondered at the size and strength of the animal that had carried it there.
Daniels was busy tugging a long feather from the side of the nest. It was even longer than the one at the Kerouac Club. He cleared his throat and spat from the thick stink. “What a nasty nest!” he grumbled.
Michael saw what he was talking about and drew back his hand. With grizzly horror he realized the log he was touching was not wood at all, but a rib bone from some massive beast. Dried bits of flesh and tendon hung off the end. It was probably from some whale or sea carrion the bird had scavenged
Sefu stood beyond the nest looking over the edge of the cliff to the east. Michael joined him. The air was fresher there, as the wind blew in from over the sea, but a new acrid smell tingled in Michael’s nose― smoke. The mountaintop dropped swiftly downwards past oak-shaded hills. Michael could see the end of the canyon road as it met the seaside city of Caral where columns of black smoke were already rising from the edge of town. The ocean breeze carried the distant shouts of people running in fear.
“The attack has already begun,” remarked Sefu, surveying the distant siege with calculating eyes.
“Should we turn around?” Michael asked.
“Maybe,” Sefu contemplated. “Your survival is the most important thing right now. You must fulfill the destiny your father refused. We need supplies and reinforcements and you need time to practice your Moving so when the time comes, you are ready to take up his mantle. If we stay here, we shall be trapped. The explorer’s club may be safe for now, but eventually a refugee will give up its location or the demons will catch Harbin or Lopez while they’re hunting.”
Michael peered over the cliff. It was a long drop― much longer than the building he jumped off of in Alexandria. He looked at the distant rooftops bordering the shore of the Atlantic. At their far end he could make out the masts of several large ships. Their white sails beckoned him like banners of peace.
“The boats aren’t on fire yet,” he remarked.
“No,” Sefu turned to Michael with a baleful look, “they’re not.” He spoke his next thoughts somberly. “I know this has all
Michael raised his eyebrows uncomfortably at the thought. In the past few days, Sefu had been his guide and guardian. Despite his encouraging words, Michael considered himself no more than a fledgling.
Sefu continued, “Although I think your father translated the Oracle’s prediction in a cowardly, irresponsible way, I still believe that the prophecy is protecting you. There have been numerous occasions in the past week in which you could have been hurt or killed, not least of which was in the river. But you must be careful― Fate has not yet made its choice. It’s waiting to see whether it needs you or not. Someone from your line will end the war between Light and Dark, but as long as your father lives, you remain mortal. It is his withdrawal, his refusal to fight that puts you into play. Destiny is waiting to see if you take charge.”
As Michael absorbed Sefu’s words, a shadow passed overhead.
“It’s coming back!” shouted Daniels.
Michael looked up to see the great bird circling, its brown and ochre plumage dark against the morning sky. It was as huge as its aerie implied. Daniels was already running towards the cliff. He leapt off the edge holding onto the feather with both hands. Instead of dropping into the abyss, the feather yanked at his hands and he was borne aloft.
Grant and Maya quickly joined Michael and Sefu at the cliff with their feathers.
“That is really high!” fretted Maya.
Grant stepped back towards the nest, giving himself room for a running start. “When you jump, hold on tight to the feather and whatever you do, don’t let go!” He ran as fast as he could towards the cliff and dove off. Like Daniels, he was quickly swept upwards as if pulled by invisible strings, but in a moment, he began to slowly descend towards the sea.
Michael wished he hadn’t spent so much time staring out over the drop. The monster bird was descending fast and he didn’t even have a feather yet.
Maya was looking a little green. He put his hand on her shoulder.
“Are you okay?” he asked her.
“Yeah, I just wouldn’t mind some practice first,” she gulped.
“You’ll be okay,” he said. “I’ll be right behind you.”
She closed her eyes for a moment and took a deep breath. She took a few tentative steps back towards the nest, then charged over the edge. She squealed as she was buoyed upward.
“I’m okay!” she called back as she clutched her feather tightly and began her descent.
Michael and Sefu had to hurry to find feathers before the roak was upon them. Sefu drew one from the side of the nest and headed towards the cliff. Michael grew worried at how few feathers were on the ground. He scanned the side of the nest, but did not see any there either. He suddenly grew panicked that his friends had taken the last ones. Then he realized that the feathers had an uncanny ability to float and must have all blown away. All of the ones his friends found were lodged between the branches and bones.
Michael jumped up and grabbed hold of the top rim of the nest. His injured shoulder burning as he pulled himself up.
“What are you doing?” yelled Sefu. “We have to go!”
“Go without me!” he called back. “I have to find a feather.”
“Take mine!” Sefu insisted.
But Michael wasn’t listening. He was busy trying not to gag from the overwhelming stench wafting up from the nest. Sitting amid a pile of bones and wolf seal skulls, were three massive blue eggs. Each one looked like a piece of sky made stone. They were as beautiful as the nest was hideous.
Michael heard the beating of the roak’s massive wings approaching, but then he spotted several feathers nestled amid the detritus. He ran down the side of the nest and grabbed one.
The roak called out from overhead. Its screech pierced like a siren. Michael prayed it wasn’t mad at him for invading its lair. If it was, he had only seconds to spare before it sank its talons into him. He held the feather over his head and ran up the curved bowl of the nest, throwing himself off the edge with a great stride.
Much like his jump off the roof in Alexandria, time seemed to slow down. There was a moment in which he felt frozen between jumping and falling, but before he could hold the thought, he was yanked into the sky.
Even though he had watched his friends do it, the force with which the feather pulled him upwards caught him by surprise. “Woah!” he shouted. But he managed to hold on, and before he knew it, he was gently descending towards Caral. He could see Maya, Grant, and Daniels floating ahead of him like dandelion puffs blown by the wind.