195/366 – The Roc and a Hard Place

Day 53 of 100 Word Prompts: Bubble

After four days, the group of aarakocra friends had made it as far as Bretley, a small village at the eastern base of Ameshead Mountain. While Judah had ensured that all of them would stay high above the ground to avoid trouble, the closer they got to Ameshead, the harder the winds became to maintain that height. Before long, the group had to fly low, passing trading caravans and random travelers on their way north.

“I can’t do it anymore,” Riew said, setting his feet on the road finally, stretching his wings with a grimace on his face. “I need to walk for a while.”

Casia, Erro, and Judah all followed suit, landing gently. Judah was grateful for the break at that particular moment because it would give him a chance to inspect the mountain as they passed. He craned his neck, looking up the rocky face of it, his eyes growing wider as it vanished into the clouds above them.

“Bigger than it looks from the village, eh,” Erro asked, nudging Judah.

“Much bigger,” Judah said with a slight nod.

“There’s a reason why it’s the test for aarakocra to leave Dostra. It’s almost as tall as the flight below the island to one of the staging islands,” Erro informed him. “The winds under the island can be just as dangerous.”

“It must be freezing up there,” Casia said, a shiver going through her. “I don’t know that my wings would keep working that high up. They always get stiff when it gets cold.”

“I could make it,” Riew boasted, opening his wings and taking a quick darting path around the three others. “I bet that when I decide to take that challenge, I complete it in record time.”

“Timing is key to making it to the top, though speed is not necessarily what you want,” Erro said as Riew landed next to them again. “Speed can only carry you so far. Everything I’ve read talks about sudden gusts that can either help you on your path or force you lower on the mountainside. Then there’s the matter of the constant winds said to be created by the Queen of Air. They never stop, regardless of where the island is, and it’s said she did it to protect her followers at the top.”

“Do you think you’re going to go up?” Casia asked Erro.

“I don’t know,” Erro said. “I can’t imagine leaving the island, but I might someday. Especially if Judah makes the ascent.”

“That won’t be for a bit still,” Judah said. “I don’t have the luxury of not doing it. It’s a tradition in my family. If I want to be chief someday, I need to leave Dostra for a time.”

Judah looked away from the face of the mountain back to the south, where the village of Bretley sat. He wondered how many aarakocra in the community were preparing to make the ascent, and how many were there because they had failed.

“What are you thinking about?” Casia asked, seeing Judah’s expression change from curious to dark.

“Nothing,” Judah replied quickly, shaking his head to get the thoughts from his mind. “I was just thinking about Bretley. I’m looking forward to staying in a proper nest tonight, rather than roosting on a tree and hoping luck is on our side.”

“I agree with that sentiment!” Riew said, raising a fist into the air. “Though the trip has been uneventful thus far.”

“You sound almost disappointed by that,” Erro replied, the amusement in his eyes. “You were hoping for a fight on our trek south along the road?”

“I was hoping for anything that would break up the constant travel,” Riew shot back. “I’m glad that we have each other for company, but sometimes traveling is just boring. I’d like to use my bow, get into a real combat encounter, you know? I’d like to test my skill against a mighty beast and come out victorious. Rumors of my fighting ability spreading far and wide across the island.”

“I think you need to relax a bit,” Casia laughed. “I know you passed the test in the village, but that hardly makes us legendary warriors.”

“Casia isn’t wrong,” Erro pointed out, “What about the legend of Eisabie? It’s said that they could fire no less than four arrows at a time. They single-handedly stopped a chimera that had come to prey on the village.”

“That’s just a fairy tale,” Riew replied. “I don’t believe a word of it. I’ve tried to fire even two arrows at once, and they never head for the same target, at least, not effectively.”

“Eisabie is in our history books, Riew,” Judah said, nodding, “I would hardly think that they would inflate the story. Eisabie was a falcon. Their flock has always been better with bows than the rest of us.”

“Do you think that I could be like Eisabie?” Casia said, spinning to face Judah as she walked backward. “I know finches are usually known for their speed, but I’d like to think that someday I would be a legendary figure in Dostra.”

“If I know anything,” Judah said, scratching under his beak, “it’s that aarakocra are incredible and can accomplish anything they set out to do.”

“That’s a political answer,” Riew said, “that’s hardly an answer at all.”

“It’s still technically an answer,” Erro said. “I see the wisdom of your family is beginning to wane for the owls.”

“Hey!” Judah said, nudging Erro.

“I was only kidding,” Erro said with a laugh. “Besides, wisdom comes with experience. That’s why the owls always travel from Dostra for a time. I see the value of it, and it can’t be denied that the flock has prevented many issues from arising due to their wisdom.”

Judah felt the bubble of pride expanding in his chest. He was an owl, through and through, he would learn and grow in his travels, returning to be the greatest chief the village had ever seen. His eyes crept back to Ameshead, and he felt the anxiety of the climb suppressed by his pride for a moment.

“I know I’ll make it to the top,” he whispered as he looked back toward the town.

Strong wind and a deafening screech, descending from the mountain, brought everyone’s attention above them in that moment. Judah felt the blood run from his face as a great bird swooped toward them, talons in front of it.

“ROC!” Casia screamed as they flapped their wings and scattered toward the trees.

Judah tucked his wings as soon as he reached the protection of the woods, hiding among the trees when the roc slammed into the ground. The force of it shook everything beneath their feet. His heart raced in his chest as the great titan of a bird flapping its wings producing strong winds that ripped through the trees.

“Are you okay?” Erro whispered, appearing next to him.

“I’m fine, where are the others?” Judah asked, looking through the trees toward the great beast.

“They made it to the other side of the road,” Erro said as he looked around, “Where did it come from?”

“I don’t know, but that is the biggest bird I’ve ever seen,” Judah gawked.

“We can’t stay here,” Erro said, nodding in agreement. “We have to move. That thing can rip these trees from the ground as though they were twigs.”

“What about the village?” Judah asked. “We could go there.”

“I don’t know that we should draw it there,” Erro said, “We need to get to the others before-”

With a great battle cry, Riew darted across the road a hundred feet in front of the roc, firing his bow as he moved toward Judah and Erro’s side. The roc was fast, darting forward and nearly catching him as he reached the cover of the trees.

“What is he doing? That idiot-” Erro began.

“Look,” Judah said, pointing behind the roc where Casia had darted across the road as well. “He was making sure that she made it.”

The roc tore into the trees where Riew had vanished, gripping the trunks with its beak, pulling them from the ground and snapping them in its frustration before throwing them behind it.

“We have to find Riew,” Erro said. “You go get Casia. I’ll try to see if I can find him.”

Judah nodded in agreement as the two friends flew in opposite directions, ensuring to stay beneath the protective cover of the trees. It didn’t take long for Judah to find Casia huddled in a ball, flinching from the shrieks of anger from the roc. He landed softly next to her and touched her arm, causing her to jolt in her panic.

“Casia, come on,” Judah said, grabbing her wrist. “Erro is getting Riew. We have to go before it finds one of us.”



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