The massive bird landed into the grove. The small opening in the trees could hardly hold it. The irate beast yelled out at the bird. The bird stood stalwart and stepped forward, causing the beast to step backward. The beast let out another war cry. Unabated, the bird spread its wings out in full. A massive shriek formed from the loose opening in that curved maw. The war-cry tore through the air and forced the wind to turn on the beast. The beast stepped backward and blinked in the face of the torrent of wind. It shook out its disorientation and started to scrape the ground with its hooves. The bird fluffed out its wings. It stretched its mighty golden wings around the entirety of the beast. Now a fine dome of gold and purple feathers eclipsed the beast. Then Trot heard a noise so intense that his hands ran to his ears without a second thought. The noise became the very air. He could not hear anything aside from the incredibly shrill whistle that reverberated out of that dome of feathers. They shut his auditory nerves off from the terrifying, air splitting sound. The bird’s feathers returned to their normal state, as its wings receded. The Beast swayed drunkenly back and forth as though it could hardly stand. It let loose a hoarse cry. A small, continuous trickle of dark red liquid eked out two circular orifices on the side of its head. It moaned slightly, and then fell onto its side. Its chest swelled massively as it sucked in all of the thin mountain air its lungs could find. Trot could hear his breath grow heavy with the beast’s. Trot managed to adjust his backpack with his tremulous hands. He never wanted any of this.
The bird positioned itself underneath the tree, and looked up at Trot. The Powerful Aviator’s gaze seemed softer, almost apologetic. Trot crawled down roughly from the branches, just barely managing not to simply descend from the tree in a painful tumble. He made it to the Powerful Aviator, which dipped to the earth before him, and lowered its head. Trot did not understand at first, but then he recalled the Bark-backed Whistlers and climbed on to the back of the bird. He gripped the powerful aviator’s massive hunched shoulders as it shot back into the air. Trot’s hands enjoyed the feel of the feathers. They did not feel scratchy like the bark of the wood. The feathers felt smooth and soft to his hand. The Powerful Aviator moved gently through the wind. Trot looked down. He could see a number of those little beasts, just like the one he turned over, surrounding their immobilized mother. They let out high pitched, despairing bleats. The bird flew to the very summit of the mountain. The bird descended sharply, but it fluffed out its feathers to lessen its momentum. Trot felt the sweat peel from his brow as the sky’s breeze caressed his face.
He saw it now. He saw what Scamper wanted him to reach. He smiled faintly. “We are here,” he said to Scamper, “we are finally here.”
Trot stepped off, having now regained some strength in his weary legs. He stood on a small plateau high above the earth. Around him he could see for miles. He saw massive mountain tops blanketed with shining snow. He saw slopes that rose and fell. Some rose even higher than this mountain. He saw red cliffs racing alongside massive coursing rivers. He saw out in the distance a forest composed entirely of bright white leaved trees. The trees themselves looked like bone. It felt like a dream to him. All the glory and bounty of the land stood before him. Yet the most important piece of all surrounded him now. A large grove of beautiful golden flowers swayed in the wind. They glowed brilliantly, as though each one contained a sun. He could not look at them directly, even viewing them in his periphery left a blotted imprint in his vision. He could see the silvery press of the light whenever he shut his eyes. He reached down and scooped up as many as he could and placed them against Scamper. He knew where they needed to go. He returned to the back of the bird. He pointed towards the slope of the mountain, near the base, and the aviator glided down towards that direction. Trot felt the sensation of flying through the air. He felt the breeze cool him as the bird descended towards the base of the mountain. Sometimes he worried that his arms would not hold against the forces of the sky, but even the feathers seemed to cling him tightly to the massive winged entity. Trot pointed towards the shrine. Seeing the shrine from above made it look small. The Powerful Aviator must have viewed everything like this, as simple small pieces of the world. The bird swooped down and landed just beyond the shrine. This forest was not meant for such a gargantuan animal. Trot heard twigs and sticks snap and crack as the Powerful Aviator landed. He even heard a few branches creak indignantly. Two massive talons dug into the soft dirt around the shrine. The Powerful Aviator regarded its feet quizzically, surprised by the softness of the terrain.
Trot stepped off. He wanted to watch the bird for a little longer. It looked a little out of its element, its head darting around sharply. Occasionally it whistled a leaf that fell near it, causing the leaf to surf away on a tide of air. Trot knew he could waste no time. He could feel each step towards the shrine. He wanted to run, but he knew he would fall if he tried. He reached the large oaken doors of the shrine and sighed. He placed the flat of his hands against the smooth wood doors, and with all his might shoved. He could hear them creak slowly as his arms extended fully until his shoulders were flexing and his head pointed towards the ground. The doors swung open, and he felt triumphant. He ignored that shiny, noise making plate in the corner, stepping hastily towards the small shaft. Getting on all fours, he climbed through the small shaft. He emerged in that small secret room. He could feel the presence of all of those sick, shriveling beings. Their bleats were appeals and questions. He wanted to answer them, speak to them. He almost felt that he could. He grasped the cool golden handle and creaked open the casing on the giant lantern. He placed his backpack on the ground, and removed Scamper from it. His arms could barely lift Scamper’s heavy iron body. He felt water trickle down his face. His vision grew blurry and his eyes curled into themselves.
“See?” He spoke through sadness, “We made it. We made it back.” He felt as though he were choking on each word.
He shielded his eyes from the glowing flowers, as he placed them into the lantern. The flower wove into the lantern’s very framework. At first its light dimmed, and he saw the shifting golden strands on its petals shift and move as though they were fiery specks on top of a sun. Then, the flower shined so brightly that Trot had to shut his eyes. His hand swam desperately through the air, until it found the edge of the golden handle. He shut the lantern’s case. The whole room lit up, and those grey insects began to shimmy loose from their stale groaning. Their shells started to turn orange and red. Some bore stripes or dots. Scamper still sat perfectly still. Trot saw just how wide that dent in his armor was. Trot moved Scamper closer to the light.
“Come on, Scamper.” Trot pleaded, “Come on. I know… I know you are not…”
Scamper’s body remained limp. He felt the cold of his shell press against his hands now. Trot ran his fingers across the dent in Scamper’s armor. He felt the twist of that metallic shell. For a moment, he felt as though something cut him deep, and the blood would pour from him at any moment. Trot lowered Scamper to the floor. Scamper’s insect brethren surrounded their silent brother. They lifted him up, and moved him outside. Trot followed them in solemn procession, picking up his backpack while leaving the remaining golden flowers in the shrine.
A part of him remained curious even through grief. He wanted to turn away from Scamper, to try and forget, but he needed to watch. He needed to see what they would do with him. They placed Scamper just outside of the shrine. They all ran off into various directions. Trot watched them, as did the large and mighty aviator. Now it even bent its head in grief. Perhaps it remembered how Scamper chattered. Maybe it heard Scamper, understood him. Maybe it could only understand those sharp whistles its brethren made.
Scamper’s brethren returned with a number of those fiery red flowers. They placed their flowers against Scamper’s shell. The glow of those flowers intensified. Trot ran his calloused, dry hand against his wet face and puffy eyes. He knelt next to Scamper, and removed a red flower from his pack. He was going to keep it for himself. He extended his hand, and placed the flower on Scamper’s shell.
The flowers vibrated. He heard them hum. A flame erupted from the pile of flowers. The flame was a pure and ebullient white. It engulfed Scamper, and then dissipated. The smoke dissipated. Trot saw a solitary, gorgeous white flower with a golden center. The flower made Trot smile begrudgingly. He saw the attention of the bugs focus to him. He paused. Hoping not to offend them, he reached down, and picked it up. He felt overwhelmed. He could feel Scamper’s spindly legs in the stalk, and he could see the shine of that untended armor in the bright petals of the flower. A rush of emotion overcame Trot. He clutched the flower towards his heart. He held it against his shirt and it wove into the fabric. He felt it fade from his hand. A beautiful white flower sowed itself into the pattern, just next to the roots of the tree.
The Powerful Aviator let out a small caw, getting Trot’s attention. On the shoulder of the massive aviator stood that little glass eyed bird from earlier. It chirped lightly before it returned to the air. The Aviator seemed to nod at Trot as it shot into the air. He heard more branches shatter against the wings of that behemoth. Trot felt lighter and heavier at the same time.
He smiled and tried to fight off further tears. He tried to fight off the sleep beleaguering his weary state. He dragged himself into the temple and lost both fights.
This is the end of our tale, though I think I’d like to squeeze more from this world. Hope everyone enjoyed the story! If not, tell me what made you disinclined to it. Criticism is welcome.
~Austin R Ryan