Day 12 of 100 Word Prompts: Vault
Judah stood at the bottom of Mount Ameshead, looking up to the peak several thousand feet above him. The black plumage of his feathers twitching in the near-constant cool breeze typical in the area. He flexed his wings, stretching them out to let the sun warm them as he took a deep breath and nodded.
Around him stood Riew and Casia, brother and sister of the Robin clan from his village, as well as Erro, the Crow.
“We finally made it,” Erro said, “Come on, guys, we got Judah as far as the Chief asked us to bring him.”
“I don’t know about this,” Riew said, ignoring Erro. “Are you sure that you can make it?”
“I’m as ready as I’ll ever be,” Judah replied. “This is just the first of many tests. If I can make it to the peak without stopping, I’ll know that I’m ready to begin my journey.”
“I don’t know that I’d be able to make it to the top,” Casia said, her neck craning to look up.
“He’ll be fine,” Erro said, “Judah is the best flyer in the village.”
“You’ve heard the stories, Erro,” Casia said. “A lot of Aarakocra don’t return from the trip, and even more return with broken wings, unable to fly for the rest of their lives. This seems like a bad idea.”
“I have to do this, Casia,” Judah said. “If I want to be Chief, I have to do this. Making it to the top will prove that I can make it home.”
“Do you know where you’re going if you make it to the top?” Riew asked.
“No idea,” Judah admitted. “Father told me that I’d need to speak with Master Zeed. From there, I don’t know anything.”
“I think we’ve delayed him long enough,” Erro said, placing his hands on the Robins’ shoulders. “It’ll take him hours to get up there. It’s best if he has the sun to help him.”
“Okay,” Casia said, throwing her arms around Judah’s waist. “Remember, the thermals will lift you fast, don’t relax too much. The winds driving into the side of the mountain get stronger the higher you go.”
“I’ll be fine,” Judah said, hugging her back. He shook Erro and Riew’s hands and took a step back. “I’ll be home before you know it.”
With a powerful downward stroke, he began the grueling task of flying up the sheer side of the mountain before him. About fifty feet up, he glanced back to see the others watching him. He waved and opened his wings, letting the updraft carry him at a steadily increasing speed.
The rough side of the mountain streaked past him in a blur. His heart raced with each light breeze that threatened to bring him too close to the rock face.
Over the next few hours, Judah grew bored with the ascent, occasionally pulling out of the updraft to flap his wings and work the stiffness from them. He thought about his home and his parents waiting for him to return. His mind wandered to the last conversation he’d had with his father.
“To take my position as Chief of the village, you’ll need to come back with something valuable,” Jeremiah, his father, had said.
“What does that mean?” Judah asked.
“Only you can decide. It dictates what sort of leader you’ll be as chief,” Jeremiah replied.
“Why did you bring back the spear that Kheah took with him?” Judah asked.
“Because I brought back our history,” Jeremiah said, placing his hand on Judah’s shoulder.
A sudden gust of wind threw Judah into a tumble, speeding toward the face of the mountain. He struggled to untangle his wings in the winds but managed to get them open just before he hit a rock ledge, and a jutting piece of stone slammed into his ribs, knocking the air out of him.
Judah kept his grip on the rock and held on as tight as he could while the wind whipped past him in a near-constant torrent of twisting currents. Once the air returned to his lungs, he pulled himself onto the ledge and pressed his back against the wall.
Plucking a small feather from his leg, Judah released it over the edge and watched it tumble through the air before shooting straight up and quickly back into the mountain.
“Here’s the hard part,” Judah said, rubbing his ribs. “At least I wore my armor for this.”
Judah leaned out and dove off the side, gathering speed as he plummeted back toward the floating island beneath him. He forced his wings open a little and curved away from the mountain before he opened them and let the thermals lift him again. He flapped his wings to try to maintain the space between him and the mountain. When he approached the spot where he had been shoved back toward the mountain, he turned away from it and began flapping as hard as he could to push himself higher.
The wind caught him almost instantly and began pushing him toward the rock once more as he struggled against it. He managed to make it through the top of it when the wind suddenly changed direction, and the updraft threw him in a tumbling ball toward the summit. He watched as the monastery zipped past him, several figures outside pointing toward him.
The wind died beneath Judah, and he began plummeting once more toward the carved stone courtyard surrounding the building on the peak. Judah tried to open his wings but found that the feathers of his right had become caught in his bow, pinched between himself and the handle. His left opened without issue and turned his tumble into a spiral.
Below Judah, he saw a blue-skinned person watching his descent to the ground. He reached down and began freeing his feathers one by one until his wing snapped away from him. It only just slowed his fall as he landed squarely on the blue-skinned man.
“Sorry,” Judah said as he pushed himself from the ground. “I didn’t mean to hit you.”
“I was trying to catch you,” the man replied.
“Thanks for that, I think,” Judah replied.
“Zhen!” A fierce-looking blue-skinned woman yelled as she walked toward them. Zhen freed himself from Judah and stood stock still, locked in a rigid stance. “I told you before. You can’t do that!”
“I’m sorry, Master Zeed,” Zhen replied, bowing. His hair, only a slightly different shade from his skin, flowed as though it were in a constant lazy updraft. “I thought that he would be injured.”
“I’m sure that under normal circumstances, it would be appreciated, but this is a matter of their cultural heritage. I cannot stress it enough that you can’t interfere with it,” Master Zeed replied, looking apologetically to Judah. “I’m sorry for my apprentice’s interference-”
“It’s fine, really,” Judah replied, waving his hands. “Wait, you’re Master Zeed?”
“Aera Zeed, Master of this monastery. How may I be of service?” Master Zeed replied.
“I’m on a mission to become the next Chief of my village-” Judah began.
“Say no more,” Master Zeed replied with a wave of her hand. “Zhen, ready a room for our guest. As you interrupted his journey, you will be responsible for him while he is here.”
“Yes, Master,” Zhen replied with a quick bow before he ran toward the building.
“Which village do you hail from?” Master Zeed asked, turning back to Judah.
“Boswetle,” Judah replied.
“Ah, Jeremiah Falcone is the Chief there currently. I was wondering when I would see another from your village,” Master Zeed replied. “Where are my manners. What is your name?”
“Judah Falcone, Ma’am-”
“Master is more appropriate, Judah. So you are Jeremiah’s son?” Master Zeed asked.
“Yes, Master,” Judah replied.
“Did he tell you what to expect once you got here?” she asked.
“No, Master,” Judah replied.
“Good, then he learned well. You will receive a bit of testing while you are here. I suggest you follow Zhen and get some rest. Tomorrow at dawn, your trials will begin in the vault,” she said before bowing and walking away toward another small group of people.