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Old 11-10-2010, 02:32 AM
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Mad MOAI Mad MOAI is offline
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Default mM's NaNoWriMo - Clarence's Jacket (story's over, possible editing)

Yes, I do have an odd style of writing. I use "maybe," "as if," "almost," and "glanced" too much, among other things. But different styles don't necessarily make bad writing.

So how is my style?

At first, Clarence and his family seem like someone you'd see every day. To tell the truth, they really are nothing but average. Everyone's got school, and a life, and ambition. Other than the sudden disappearance of their mother when Clarence was young, nothing really notable happens in their life. Then one day, an unorthodox article turns up in a newspaper, and the three siblings are turned into birds. And when a heron and a woodpecker show up in their neighborhood, it's the first sign that their comparatively boring lives are starting to get interesting. Anything could be ahead of them: friendships, love, enemies, bullies, adventure, even betrayal...

--

-Prologue
The sound of the bell was imminent. Just ten more minutes. Naturally, this was school, and Clarence was stuck in biology class. He definitely didn’t dislike it, though. Biology was his favorite class, and he knew that it would help him into a diving or marine-biologist career when he finished college. But eleventh grade was still a few years away from university. Oh, well – might as well prepare now.

Clarence’s dark brown eyes flicked back down to his notes. He was sixteen, going on seventeen on the ninth of April. To him, he was lucky to have school; it prepared him for what else might happen in life.

Maybe he should look over these before the bell rang. Never know when Mr. Hart might launch a pop quiz at his students and practically explode the whole classroom with surprise.

Clarence stared down at the lined paper, filled with his scrawly handwriting. He was lucky that any of his teachers could read it. He just had to work on not daydreaming about underwater trenches when he was supposed to be studying at a time like this.

All too soon, the drowsy tone echoed in his ears, and he slid the composition book under his arm. Seemingly not in a hurry, Clarence gathered his books-and-such into his arms and lifted himself to his feet before sauntering out the door like any other average student. He heard Mr. Hart say something, but he didn’t scrutinize all of the minuscule details. Sure enough, right as he exited the classroom, another boy came around the corner and fell into step beside him.

Clarence didn’t smile. His brother Rhys was two years younger than him, in the ninth grade. At the ends of the days where Clarence had Biology as his final class, Rhys would appear from around that corner as if out of nowhere. Rhys’s hair was a clean, dark blond and fell over his eyes and glasses, contrasting Clarence’s messier black hair.

“How was it?” Rhys asked his brother with an almost intentionally annoying tone. Had the last class not been his favorite and left him in a good mood, Clarence might have stomped on his brother’s adjacent foot.

“I’m pretty sure we have some sort of test tomorrow,” Clarence answered flatly, focused on his sinister black shoes. “Friday.”

“Sounds good to me,” said Rhys absently. “You like biology.”

Clarence scowled at his shoes and a moment later barely avoided smacking his head into a wall.

“Bad karma,” he muttered, and then told himself, “This way.”

Hoping that he hadn’t looked too incompetent, Clarence turned to follow the hall. About ten seconds later Rhys practically skipped back up behind him after some sort of delay. Probably one of his other ninth grade friends.

“So we pick Ava up in an hour,” Clarence clarified, closely evading a question. Ava was Rhys and his little sister, in the seventh grade. She attended a nearby junior high rather than needlessly following her brothers around through the world of education. “We have some time to kill before that.”

“Check the news?” Rhys suggested. “One of my teachers told me something strange was going on.”

“Did he tell you or the class?” Clarence questioned, almost sarcastically.
“The class, of course,” Rhys said defensively, and seemed hostile for a second.

Clarence said nothing. He took a sudden swerve to the right and shot his hand towards an indent in the wall: his locker. In a few seconds spent rotating the combination lock, the dark silver swung outwards. The inside of Clarence’s locker didn’t seem too unorthodox, apart from the photos of underwater landscapes clasped to the walls by simply magnets. He shoved his black biology composition book roughly into his backpack and tugged the pack carefully out of the locker. After fumbling around with other notebooks and similar items, he shut the locker door, and turned around.

The hall was churning with students, but Rhys had returned to Clarence’s side, backpack at the ready.

“Walking home?” the fourteen-year-old asked amiably, almost naively.
Clarence tossed his head in response and continued down the hallway until he came to a tall door with a large square window a set into it a little lower than eye level. The window revealed the cheerful glow of the sun outside, proving the early-autumn night to be a calm one. He shouldn’t have too much trouble picking up Ava from her school.

The warmth embraced him persistently without warning, and he shuddered it off. He had to get used to it first. Stupid persistent warmth.

“Let’s go,” he murmured, half to himself. The concrete under his shoes was simple and familiar. He trod on it any weekday, anyway.

The curve to their neighborhood crept up under their feet unknowingly. Again, it was the same road they took every day. Nothing very special.
The familiar row of houses slid smoothly by. They were mostly white, gray or brown, tinged with one of several other possible colors which gave the houses variety. They could easily be seen from the windows of the duo’s house.

The steps to the front door approached swiftly. Clarence swung his smoky gray backpack off of his shoulders and nimbly unzipped the smallest front pocket, pulling out a small silver key with a forest green cover on the round end. Secretively, as if the always-watching Rhys might actually be a thief who was memorizing what his brother did so that he could later break into the house, Clarence shadowed his hand with his head and inserted the key into the constantly impatient doorknob. The knob gladly accepted the key into its jagged maw and let it twist, revealing the passage into the unlit house. Clarence stepped in, letting the more comforting, darker environment swallow him and his brother.

When he turned around to lock the door again, he noticed that Rhys was holding a black and white bundle wrapped in clear plastic.

“A newspaper,” said Clarence, and twisted the key in the slot before stuffing it back into its home in his backpack.

“Dad won’t be home for a while,” Clarence told himself. He tapped Rhys (who was glaring daggers intently at the front page of the newly unwrapped newspaper) on the head with his forefinger. “Might as well get something to eat.”

Rhys didn’t answer. He was still standing on the landing just inside the front door, absorbed in what must have been corny news.

Clarence started towards the kitchen but stopped halfway and turned back to his brother. “Something wrong?” he asked, taking a step in the direction of the door.

“Just a meteor-type thing,” Rhys said, apparently not paying attention, but the moment Clarence came within four feet of him his brother shoved the newspaper violently in his face, practically slapping him with the rough, serrated edges. Although somewhat stunned from the thrust, Clarence wrapped his fingers around the sides of the newspaper and rested his eyes on the front article.

“So some unofficial weatherman saw a meteor,” Clarence scoffed, starting to hand the paper back to Rhys. “What’s so special about that?” But Rhys smashed it back into his face… again.

“Read it!” Rhys insisted. “It’s flying low. They said that if it landed, it would pop up in the ground somewhere right around here.”

“Sure,” said Clarence, tenaciously turning his head away and putting his palm over the newspaper. “’They’ could be anyone, even some random bearded guy who lives in a house the size of a trash can. Who knows if the story is even true? You shouldn’t believe everything you read in the newspaper.”
Rhys frowned, but his brother wasn’t watching. Clarence stalked over to the refrigerator and opened the door as if he was forcing himself to be calm. Placidly, but in a dubious manner, he produced an apple from one of the clear drawers and shut the plain white door of the fridge.

About an hour later, he opened the door to the house again, and this time brought inside with him not only Rhys but his twelve-year-old sister Ava. Ava wore glasses like Rhys’s, although her eyesight was in general better and she was more enthusiastic about wearing glasses than he was. The trio of siblings’ father still wasn’t home. Ava settled for a banana as a snack, although Rhys still seemed too ruffled to eat anything. He was shuddering every now and then, although he seemed more excited than scared.

Clarence studied his biology notes silently, perfectly happy to be working towards his looming career in marine biology. Ava was doing her relatively small, seventh-grade-sized load of homework that neither of her brothers would probably get anytime soon.

At around two hours later, at six PM, the low whir of a car engine echoed from just outside the house. Ava dropped her pencil onto the page of her math homework and turned expectantly towards the door. Rhys looked up from the article of the meteor. Clarence finished reading his sentence and stepped back onto the hardwood floor from his tall chair, adjusting his long jacket at the collar. He shook himself to get used to the old, active world rather than the endless ocean of studying and imbibition of his biology notes.
“I’ll go take a shower,” Clarence said quietly to himself, barely loud enough for the others to hear in case they wondered where he was.

Clarence’s room was upstairs. He didn’t mind trudging up and down the staircase all the time, as long as he could have a room to himself, far from the rooms of his younger siblings.

Clarence undressed sluggishly and took his shower, catching snippets of downstairs conversation between his siblings and his father, as well as the low boom that signaled constantly opening and closing doors of a room (or the refrigerator) and maybe the microwave that was always irritatingly loud.
Satisfied, he pulled on some plain casual clothes and the jacket he had just been wearing. The jacket was smooth and black with a white, strap-like Y shape on the back that wrapped around his shoulders and joined in a line that ran down his spine to the vaguely split end of the jacket.

By the time he had slunk back down the stairs, his family was sitting at the dinner table. There was no empty chair where there presumably nonexistent mother would be sitting, but there hadn’t been one for years anyway.

Clarence’s mother had disappeared when he was nine, and when his siblings were younger still. Nobody knew where she had gone; she had just vanished.
“You eating dinner?” Ava called from her seat.

Clarence grunted absently and turned back around. His black-and-white jacket swirled with him as he pivoted, as if in a vortex. “I’ll eat something later,” he told them groggily, and started back upstairs to his bed.

--

Studying always made Clarence tired. His eyes weren’t bad, but staring at a paper with dark grey text for an hour straight caused his brain to ache. As he lay sleepless in bed, lacking a shirt, he thought about how much he might make his family worry by not eating, and compared that to how Rhys was undoubtedly devouring Clarence’s food for him. In his mind it was a favor – no use wasting food he wouldn’t eat. Rhys could go ahead and eat it.
He wondered briefly what Ava was eating before the darkness constricted his weary brain, and it sent him hurtling deep into a sleep with unclear dreams of only mist and fog.
__________________

Why would anyone want to turn back time? There’s no meaning in regret. No point in thinking about things I could have done. Because there’s no guarantee that any decision is the right one.
-Ryunosuke, Wild Adapter 6


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Last edited by Mad MOAI; 11-20-2010 at 01:29 AM.
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Old 11-10-2010, 02:36 AM
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Mad MOAI Mad MOAI is offline
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Default Re: mM's NaNoWriMo - Clarence's Jacket (title subject to change)

-Chapter One: It's not a Dream, Is It?

Clarence only awoke to more darkness. The room was only contrasting shades of black, even though he could make out the creases where the ceiling met the wall and the wall met the floor. The lines were clear to him when they should have been smudged out by the poor visibility, which was odd to him.

He must have rolled about in his sleep, because his position seemed quite awkward. With joints still stiff from resting, he crouched rather pointlessly on his bed. This felt far more comfortable, and he thought he might be able to fall asleep again – in fact just as he had that thought his eyes closed and he fell forwards against his pillow, back into minor unconsciousness.

When he could see again, it was considerably lighter. Clarence lifted his head to the gently, soothingly glowing digital clock in the corner of his room. According to the clock, it was about six in the morning. At least he had gotten plenty of sleep.

Clarence tried to slide out of bed, but found his ankles rather stiff and so shuffled instead. When he reached the edge of the bed, his feet instinctively tried to keep him from falling off, but he protested and let himself collapse on the ground with a thump muffled by the carpet.

Aching shot through his bones. Maybe falling out of his bed wasn’t such a good idea.

He attempted to rise back to his feet by pushing up with his hands, but his arms and wrists seemed surprisingly limp. He turned his head to the side easily to glance at the arms, but instead of arms he witness slim but sturdy limbs coated in long, shining feathers which were black like his jacket.
So, wait – he had wings now? Clarence thought he must be dreaming, but it seemed like a very real dream to him. He could feel the soft, refreshing touch of the feathers on his skin, and growing out of it like hair on his head. At somewhat of a loss, he rolled until he managed to support himself back onto his feet. Even though he did have wings, he didn’t expect his feet to look like something out of a storybook – four long, greenish-yellow, and demonic toes with a sharply curved, dangerous-looking talon sprouting out of the end of each. Three of his toes pointed forwards, but one pointed behind him from the back of his ankle. Sure enough, his legs were covered with the same black feathers, all the way down to his ankles.

Experimentally, he spread out his arms – which he just remembered in this dream were wings – and was surprised by how he felt his muscles working. His shoulders seemed unnaturally large; his chest seemed to change shape when he moved his arms back far enough. He sensed the feather-fingers on his left hand-wing-thing touch the wall, and he was tempted to pump just to see what would happen, but he doubted that he would be able to get away with it without destroying anything.

He heard a rattling at the door, and he straightened himself up again just in time to see his father come in, telling him something in human language. But why couldn’t he understand it? He was a human too, right? He could hear the syllables, but he had no idea what his father was saying!

He presumed that they were both confused, since his father stood fairly stunned in the doorway, obviously perplexed at how a black feathery thing could have eaten his son. Taking this moment to return to his senses, Clarence hopped repeatedly towards the door, barely making it out before his father leapt for him. Clearly that had been the only thing he had thought to do was attack the bird-thing that Clarence was sure he was, or maybe he wanted to sell it. He had no idea. Since Clarence had absolutely no idea how to fly, all he could do was hop and-or stumble. When he got to the stairs, he had no idea how he would get down them safely, so he groaned in disappointment. It definitely sounded like a bird, but he could understand the emotions within it, which was strange. Not bothering to think about whether he had woken up his siblings, Clarence opened his arms as far as he could without smacking the wall and hopped painstakingly down the stairs like an overly careful crow. He seemed to fall a bit slower than normal, but it didn’t really matter, because he tripped every other step anyway. Clarence ended up essentially falling down the stairs with only the lift of his wings to support him, and he hurt when he, after what seemed like hours of tumbling, ended up at the bottom of the stairs. He wasn’t exactly terrified, but he didn’t want to stay here either. Who knew what his dad would do to a bird-thing? He didn’t even know whether he was still a bit human or entirely bird. Maybe the mirror would tell him. He might be able to sneak into the bathroom without letting his father hear where he was going. Carefully, trying to sneak (which was hard with his long talons), he crawled across the hallway like an insect until he ended up at one of the adjacent doors. This bathroom he knew had a mirror in it, but he had no idea how he’d climb to the counter, much less open the door. He probably should have thought this through earlier.

With a scoff, he crossed the hall to his brother’s room. Maybe Rhys would know it was him and help him out somehow. Clarence didn’t know how that would work, but he had to do something.

Clarence walked up against the door and tried to keep walking. He still wasn’t sure whether or not he had a beak, and he couldn’t peck at the door without knowing, since doing so without a beak might cause a broken nose. He kept shoving, and became nervous when he didn’t hear his father chasing him. It was unnerving, as well. Never know when he might sneak up behind him and kill him with a knife or something.

Soon enough Clarence got the door open, and hurried inside, practically colliding with some other smaller object that was right next to the door. Clarence started and shouted unintentionally loudly, which he was aware signaled to his father exactly where he was. Panicking, Clarence fidgeted, and stared at the thing in front of him. Undoubtedly, it was a seagull, and it was about half his size. But where was Rhys? Unless this seagull was Rhys…
“…Rhys?” he asked. He heard the bird noise and understood it perfectly, even though it wasn’t human speech. How strange.

The seagull froze for a moment, apparently perplexed. Then he opened his rounded bill and replied, “Yes, who are you?”

Clarence sighed with relief. This dream was getting weirder by the second. But if it was just a dream, why was he fleeing from his own father? Why did it seem so real?

“It’s me,” he told the Rhys-gull. “I’m your brother, Clarence. But I think I’m a bird.”

Rhys ruffled his feathers in a way that made him puff up like a hedgehog for a split second. Clarence immediately thought of the term “fluffing.”

“So why am I a seagull in the dream?” asked the Rhys-gull. “Can you help me wake up?”

Clarence blinked blankly. This was supposed to be his dream, wasn’t it? Why was the Rhys-gull acting this way? Maybe his brain just wanted to confuse him.

“But I’m the one dreaming here,” Clarence asserted, shuffling his feet on the carpet. “You’re just part of my imagination, aren’t you, Rhys-gull?”

“Wait, I’m not entirely a seagull, am I, black-eagle Clarence?” Rhys asked innocently, although Clarence sensed that the gull was including one of his questions at the end.

“I could ask the same thing,” said Clarence after a moment of thought. He turned his head as far to the left as he could (which was considerably far since he was apparently some sort of black eagle) and examined his glossy, night-colored plumage. What surprised him was the white stripe that ran up his back and split to roll over each shoulder – it looked exactly like the marking on his jacket.

“Why am I still wearing my jacket?” he inquired to nobody in particular. “Is this just a coincidence or a weird dream-influential thing?”

When he turned his head back around he noticed that Rhys was fidgeting around. The Rhys-gull opened his bill again.

“Do you think we should check on Ava?” he questioned, apparently still brain-fuddled from the dream. Even fragments of Clarence’s imagination had personalities, he guessed.

“Might as well do what I can in this dream,” Clarence answered vaguely, pivoting in the direction of the door, which was ajar. “But I don’t want to get hurt here in case it affects me in the waking world, so let’s be careful. Our father is looking for me.”

The Rhys-gull nodded silently and twitched his feet a little. With one more backwards glance, Clarence proceeded to hop to the nearest door. By now he was pretty sure that he had indeed completely taken the form of a bird, so he moved his head in a way that he hoped was pecking hard on the door.
Better hurry, he warned himself. The noise might get Dad’s attention.

After about a minute that seemed more like an hour, the door yielded, and swung inwards on its hinges. Clarence’s presumed eagle eyes could make out lines in the darkness, but he didn’t recognize any particular shapes. He swiveled his head to check on Rhys, and not only saw the safe gull but a tall shadow approaching from the stairs, accompanied by booming footsteps like thunder that had been intentionally modified to be processed very slowly by the human ears. His heart jumped and he stuck his head into the room, lifting his shoulders in panic.

“Ava!” he screamed into the room, a loud screech that would probably wake up neighbors in the adjacent houses, and definitely reveal his location to his father, but the human most likely knew where Clarence was anyway. “Get out of there! Follow the two birds! Hurry!”

Without looking to see what was following him, or whether anything was, Clarence hopped swiftly down the hall towards the front door. There was no way he could thwart his father’s plans, whatever they were, but at least he could escape with his siblings. He spread his wings out and tried to make a flying motion, but he had no idea how to get off the ground, and ended up running in an unstable fashion towards the stairs. It occurred to him that he had no idea how he was going to get out of here. He considered running behind his father, but that would be risky. Not like there was any other option.

“Follow me!” he called, although he wasn’t sure if the other birds could hear him. He was approaching the shadow, which was slowly developing into a tall human figure, as if time was stalling for Clarence’s suspense just so that he would be stressed out from waiting. Soon he was going to have to dodge the club-like arms and legs, but not yet.

And then, before he knew it, Clarence was just feet from the front door, and the two other birds were going to be caught. He was out of harm’s way, but his siblings were at greater risk alone. His father was settled off of the stairs now, but he was facing away from Clarence and towards the other two birds, blocking their passage down the hallway. What was he going to do? What was Clarence supposed to do?

He simply did the first thing that came to his mind, acted out of impulse. He made some sort of propelling motion with his wings and feet that launched him into the air like a rocket, and the next thing he knew was that his feet were clutching his dad’s right shoulder and human hands were flying at him like missiles. The Rhys-gull was frozen from shock, standing dumbly on the floor. There was a tiny, sooty blue shape next to him, although Clarence couldn’t quite make out what it was, mainly from the motion.

“Go!” he screeched at them, maneuvering with his wings to barely avoid the worst of the blows. “I’ll catch up! Get out of here!”

Apparently his shrieking only irritated his father. Clarence had to snap his full attention back to his father to avoid getting killed. He shuffled in every direction he could think of, and his thrashing foothold caused him to only grip tighter. Then suddenly his father tipped sharply to the left, and his talons slipped. Instinctively, Clarence scrabbled for a grip, shooting bright red into his vision. The colored lines appeared beneath his dad’s shirt, and Clarence finally let go, startled. He tumbled as if in a hurricane wind to the ground like a bomb. He didn’t bother letting his wings flail, but put all his effort into moving out the front door, which was open – for the moment. His muscles protested at the movement but he loped out anyway, rushing to the side of the Rhys-gull. Next to Rhys was a minuscule black-and-scarlet bird, but Clarence’s eyes didn’t see anything but the scarlet. He had underestimated his talons and hurt his father. Who knew how much damage he could have caused? Clarence was lost.

A moving shape was in the sky, and Clarence knew it was some sort of bird. Another silhouette followed it soon after, which meant it was a pair of birds. From the looks of it, they were small birds. Almost as small as –
Clarence turned his head back to the black-and-red bird. It was a tiny one, with a beak that dug far into its skull and beady black eyes like buttons. It was rather creepy, really, as if it could read his mind. Not only that but this creepy bird was most likely his sister.

As the wind blew over his face, and the birds in the sky drew ever closer, he managed to pant out one sentence.

“It’s not a dream, is it?”
__________________

Why would anyone want to turn back time? There’s no meaning in regret. No point in thinking about things I could have done. Because there’s no guarantee that any decision is the right one.
-Ryunosuke, Wild Adapter 6


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  #3  
Old 11-10-2010, 03:17 AM
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Mad MOAI Mad MOAI is offline
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Default Re: mM's NaNoWriMo - Clarence's Jacket (title subject to change)

-Chapter Two: Whimsical Reality

Clarence kept his beak open. He was absolutely that this wasn’t a dream now. There was no way a dream could possibly be this real. The experience in the hall, the blood on his talons – all of that was real. Which meant that somehow he and his siblings had really taken forms of birds. It had to do with something strange, like… the meteor! It was a slim possibility, but that weird article about the meteor in the newspaper and this might not have been a coincidence. If the passing of the meteor had caused it, or its landing, then it might be linked with this…

Clarence slowly drifted out of his thoughts when a voice called from the direction of the shadows that had approached a minute before.

“In case you were wondering, this is indeed not a dream,” called the high-pitched voice. About ten seconds later, two birds came into Clarence’s focus. The first was just over a foot tall, and had mainly black plumage with a crimson face and breast and a scarf of white around its neck. The second was about three feet tall and had considerably longer legs. Its body was shaped like an egg and was covered with slate blue plumage, while its long neck and head were more maroon. The two birds landed in front of Clarence, the blue heron-bird straightening itself and plucking through the feathers on its back. After a few awkward seconds, the heron tossed its head so that it was staring directly into Clarence’s left eye, and then spoke.

“We came here to… fetch you,” it told them. Nobody responded, so the presumably male heron continued. “Or rather, teach you, I should say.” He ran its beak through its breast feathers once as if out of embarrassment, and then resumed his locking gaze on Clarence. After about a minute, his dark golden eyes flicked to Rhys, and then to the Ava-swallow. He opened his bill to speak, but the little woodpecker next to him interrupted with a small, apparently meaningless chirp.

“…You guys don’t know how to fly yet, do you?” questioned the heron. Without waiting for an answer, he fluffed. “That makes this troublesome. So what’s different from when you were a human, other than the obvious?”
Clarence took a moment to process this. Somehow this… heron knew that they were humans the night before and they had suddenly been turned into birds overnight. The bird didn’t seem psychic, although he did say that he had arrived to fetch Clarence - which meant that this was either organized somehow or it was a heron that had been watching them for a while. Either way, it was kind of creepy.

Clarence thought about the heron’s question. Now that he had a chance to think that wasn’t spent running away from something bigger than him, and now that he was outside, the sensation of touch was overwhelming. The light gray sidewalk beneath his feet was rougher than he remembered it, and he could feel each tiny air current plowing through his feathers. Somehow that was probably important, and he might learn in a minute here, but not yet. From his guess they were involved in flight, and he would use his sense of touch to find suitable places to fly. That was probably a place to start.

He voiced his opinion nervously to the heron, and had the urge to tuck his head under his wing, as if it would render him invisible to the others. He was probably just afraid of this stranger heron and its omniscient gaze.

“That’s… a large chunk of it,” the heron replied, apparently trying to make it sound like praise.

Clarence was skeptical, but accepted this.

“Anyone else?” asked the heron.

Clarence turned his head towards his siblings. He noticed that Rhys hadn’t said anything since their encounter with Dad, and Ava hadn’t said anything at all yet. Maybe she was scared. Clarence paused for a moment longer, and then raised his wings in irritation. So far, his mind was going blank.

“So if you said our lack of ability to fly was a problem, why don’t you teach us? Isn’t that what the air-current sensation is for?”

As Clarence settled and withdrew his wings, the heron didn’t seem startled, but rather annoyed. He was definitely smaller than Clarence, but he still seemed rather intimidating. Once again, he locked his deep golden gaze with Clarence’s, as if displaying a threat of his own.

“Yes, that is what the air-current sensation is for,” he agreed hostilely, “But you’re still missing part of it.” He jerked his head upright again, removing his eyes from Clarence’s, bringing some relief. “Have you tried feeling your tail feathers yet? They’re almost more important.”

Clarence inclined his head in a perplexed manner. What did tail feathers have to do with flight? He considered retorting, but it came to his mind that this heron was almost surely more experienced than him – since he had actually flown here himself – and, no matter how ridiculous the mention of tail feathers sounded, the heron was sensible enough to make Clarence consider it. So in short, retorting would only cause more trouble.

He turned his head over his left shoulder and took a glance at his tail feathers. The white stripe, as it ran down his back, formed a white blotch at the back of his abdomen, and provided a round contrast to the sooty black of his tail feathers. He wasn’t sure how to move them, though. This bird body felt entirely unnatural in comparison to his human body, with all the protrusions like his beak and his unnaturally large wings. It felt like he was wearing a big wooden bird costume and his arms weren’t long enough for the wing slots, and his shoulders weren’t broad enough for the body cavity.

It gave him a sense of dominance somehow, as if he was bigger than everyone else and could easily push them aside, but he was sure that there were bigger birds out there somewhere.

“Uh,” he muttered, searching his physical being to find out which muscles or pins he had to twitch to affect his tail feathers. Switching bodies this fast was definitely confusing. He hoped he didn’t look too goofy trying this out, but as he glanced at Rhys and Ava they were paying more attention to their own tails to his strange movement. With an inward shrug, Clarence returned to his own figuring-out. As the heron passed through his vision, though, he noticed that the slate blue bird wasn’t watching, either – only tending to his back feathers and running his long, toothpick-like beak through them.

Clarence groaned, and in a matter of three minutes he finally had an idea about how to move his tail feathers, albeit in groups of about three at a time. He swiveled his head back towards the heron and let out a sharp squawk, instantly drawing the attention of the heron as well as his small black companion with the red face (which he guessed was some sort of woodpecker due to the shape of its beak). It was rather confusing how the little woodpecker hadn’t spoken yet. Maybe it was just timid – Clarence might as well say something to it.

“So what kinds of birds are you?” he questioned, tilting his head in a way that he hoped didn’t look too silly.

The heron stared at him for a moment (Naturally, Clarence thought) and then replied to his question fairly suddenly.

“My name is Caerulea, and I’m a little blue heron. My partner here is named Corvus, and she’s a crow woodpecker.”

Corvus looked as if she might speak, but instead squeaked out a small melody.

“She doesn’t talk much, though,” Caerula explained. “And don’t call me little! You can call me Rule, though.”

Clarence blinked and absorbed this information. He wanted to say something, but swiftly forgot what it was as Rule interjected again.

“She’s a great flyer, though. Catches bugs right out of the air. You should see it sometime. Amazing.”

Clarence shook his head. “So I figured out how to move my tail feathers now. Will you teach me how to fly?”

Caerula quickly laughed, a noise that sounded more like a loquacious dove than a laugh. “You bet I will, but you want to try it for yourself first?”
Clarence felt nervousness rise in his chest. He looked towards his siblings – Rhys looked fairly enthusiastic and was beating his wings in the air, but Ava was tucking her blunt beak uncomfortably into her wing feathers.

“Sure, I’ll do it,” Clarence accepted, and immediately swatted out his right wing to keep Rule from interrupting again. “But could you give me some advice on how to start first?”

Rule paused for a while, as if to give Clarence time to think on his own words. Then, he told him, “Just feel for the air currents, jump, and try to stay up! That’s really all I can tell you!”

Clarence made what he hoped was a grimace, although it might have looked a bit different on his beak than he imagined it. No use dwindling over that.
Clarence was about to start experimenting with flying, but yet again, Rule interjected. …As expected.

“And when you’re landing, slow yourself down as much as possible. It shouldn’t be ridiculously hard.”

Clarence heard him, but gave no sign of it, and crouched down.
All right, time to focus. Can’t mess up here, or I’ll get hurt pretty bad.

The minute he propelled himself from the ground and rose into the wilderness of the air, he came an inch from regretting it. Flying contained mainly a sensation of constantly falling to which Clarence hadn’t adapted (largely because this was his first time flying outside of an airplane). At first he wanted to flail around and drop like a stone just so he could get his feet onto solid ground again, but that was no way for a bird to behave. Common sense told him to just figure out how to fly as fast as possible without dying.

Clarence almost physically nodded to his conscience, and then recalled what Rule had said. The awareness of air currents and tail feathers were the two most important things in flight. Better focus on first things first.
He hooded his eyes. He could use countless tiny air currents, but logically only the larger ones would support a big avian like him. He turned his head to the right – there was a sufficient path about three feet off of his port wing. Maybe he could use the small ones to traverse the comparably short distance.

The ground was slowly approaching. Clarence beat his wing in a way that he hoped would temporarily give him some lift, but he ended up wobbling dangerously and thought he might plummet to the hard, artificial surface of the earth. One of the smaller currents which he had underestimated supported the tip of his starboard wing, though, and he was stabilized again.

I think that was too close…

Clarence considered his minuscule knowledge on turning. Rule said tail feathers were also important, he reminded himself. Maybe that’s part of it.
He flicked his tail feathers to the left, which as he guessed shoved him to the right contrarily. Then suddenly the falling sensation magnified as he slipped onto the edge of the current, and lessened slightly again when he fit his wings to rest on the breeze.

Clarence scanned ahead. He was fairly low, which left his path more prone to obstacles. He should probably either fly higher or get back to the group, the latter of which was probably more sensible for a novice flyer like him.
Clarence slid his tail feathers to the left again and relaxed his feet a bit more. Easing out of the turn, he navigated himself into a somewhat smaller current that provided less of a slowing headwind. Again, as he traversed the space between pathways, the nonexistent falling intensified for a split second and then retreated as chilled, moving air supported his light form once more.

Now for an entirely different gear: landing.

Rule’s interjection echoed in Clarence’s head again. Slow yourself down as much as possible. If he fanned out his tail feathers and angled himself backwards, there would be more going against the push of the current, which would quickly drop its hold on him in that event.

Clarence slowly sank himself down in a ladder of winds. When his talons were about three and a half feet above the ground, he inclined, rolled his shoulders farther down his back, and slid forward his talons as if he was about to pounce on something.

He sank from the lower sky faster than he expected. Rough concrete met with his curved feet, and he was forced to pump his wings a few times before he could stand up without toppling due to his undiminished momentum.

Clarence took a deep breath in, half-disappointed not to find exhilarating moving air that always entered his lungs in flight. For the moment he had forgotten he was ever a human, and when he finally remembered an arrow of painful awakening shot itself into his heart. What would happen to everyone who knew him? He would probably lose his reputation at school for being absent for so many days without an excuse. Hopefully Dad would take care of that. But with this confusion of identities came the euphoria of a new adventure in an unexplored world known to no other human. He heard Rule’s congratulations like a distant voice muffled by a strong wind, and shuddered in a way that fluffed his feathers. Right now, he enjoyed being a bird more than he enjoyed his previous life on the human side! A new perspective always would refresh his mind.

“That was great,” he panted, still out of breath from the new excitement of his first flight as he ran his eyes over the four birds around him. “I’m just glad this really isn’t a dream.”
__________________

Why would anyone want to turn back time? There’s no meaning in regret. No point in thinking about things I could have done. Because there’s no guarantee that any decision is the right one.
-Ryunosuke, Wild Adapter 6


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Old 11-10-2010, 03:39 AM
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Default Re: mM's NaNoWriMo - Clarence's Jacket (title subject to change)

-Chapter Three - Flight

Clarence fluffed again. As Rule did so fleetingly, he remembered that birds had to preen to keep their feathers in flying shape. Clarence’s own shouldn’t be too dirty, but it would be insightful to know how to preen for future reference. He turned his head to his breast and listened to Rule for a minute.

“That was exceptional, African black eagle,” Rule told him. “You should work on the flapping, though, so you don’t wobble and fall right out of the sky. Mistakes like that seem hurtful already but could be even more deadly in physical combat."

“My name is Clarence,” he asserted sharply, and then relaxed his tone. “And thanks for the tip.”

He slowly poked his beak into his feathers. As his eyes drew closer, he noticed the build of each feather. He ran his beak along one self-consciously, and the little fibers that protruded from the main spike seemed far neater than before. Trial-and-error definitely seemed like a good way to find things out when he was an – African black eagle, was it? That made sense, since a majority of his plumage was black.

He straightened out a few more feathers before glancing at Rhys. “Your turn now, isn’t it?”

The seagull stretched his wings and flapped them twice, as if to slap away a wave of excitement. “Yeah, I hope so! The way you did it, it looked awesome!”

Clarence chuckled, although it sounded strangely like he remembered a human chuckle. Then again, birds heard everything differently than humans, so he had no way to tell. Either way, it was a noise that showed his appreciation for his brother’s enthusiasm.

As Rhys prepared for his takeoff, Clarence directed his silent conversation to Ava. She was definitely a small bird, especially compared to him, but her wings looked narrow and agile. He tried to make himself look small to avoid intimidating her.

“Hey,” he said softly. “Are you doing all right? You haven’t said anything for a long while.”

Ava shuffled her tiny feet on the sidewalk for about a third of a minute, and then showed the inside of her bright yellow beak.

“I don’t really know what’s going on… and I’m not used to being this small. Everything’s going to turn out, okay, right?”

Clarence hesitated. That last question almost made her sound as if she was cuing him to say “no.” He started to answer reluctantly, but bolstered his voice with a confident, unwavering tone.

“Yes. Everything will fix itself in the end. Don’t worry.”

The tiny blue bird inched herself closer to him, pressing her sooty-colored body against Clarence’s jet-black plumage. She was a minuscule ball of feathers and warmth, and Clarence could feel her quick little heart like a beacon surrounded by the fog of a summer day.

“If you want, I can fly with you when it’s your turn,” he offered. He lifted his wing and gently laid his finger-feathers against her side.

She nodded and answered with a nearly inaudible squeak, and then seemed to brighten up as she raised her voice. “But you better not get in my way! I might fly funny!” She playfully kicked his nearby foot, and he squawked in surprise.

“Be gentle!” he scolded amiably. “You may be small, but your talons are sharp!” He tapped his talon that was nearest to her in an imitation of her kick that left her unharmed. “The small birds are usually the fastest ones, you know.”

She gave him an expression that he guessed was supposed to be a smile, but he still wasn’t familiar with the practically invisible fluctuations in a bird face that showed its emotions, in an equivalent way to a human’s highly flexible mouth and eyebrows. No wonder no humans couldn't see them – it took a bird’s eyes to even perceive the motion and a bird’s mind to further process the information and figure out what it meant.

“Let’s watch Rhys come in,” Clarence suggested. “Who knows what’s going on out there in the air?”

The rhyme was unintentional, but Ava seemed to notice it. Her giggle was more high-pitched than Clarence would have thought.

Clarence spun himself around on his feet so that he was facing the direction in which Rhys had taken to the air. Apart from flying unusually low, Rhys looked like a real seagull, although from what Clarence could see his wing-pumping was a bit too hesitant, and that caused him to fall slowly before a strong flap was needed for more rising action, and even then it was a bit too strong and caused Rhys to shiver a little bit. Clarence could definitely relate it to his own first-flying experience, which would probably make it easier to give his brother some positive encouragement after the flight.

Clarence glanced down at Ava from the corner of his eye. Probably the only reason he had wanted to fly with her was to fly again. He liked being a bird mainly because of flying, and it contrasted deeply with his want for underwater diving from his human life. For now, he wanted to stay in this eagle body, but he still wasn’t sure whether he wanted to go back someday. It was considerably harder for him to decide with the factor of his only being a bird for about an hour and a half.

The silent mention of time switched Clarence’s attention to the sun. It had definitely risen higher than before, and from his guess it was about time for the humans in the junior high to start walking to school. Which meant that in about ten minutes this sidewalk would be a prime target for birds to be accidentally stepped on if they weren’t paying attention.

Clarence turned his head towards Rule.

“Caerulea, the humans will start heavily trafficking along this sidewalk pretty soon. We should probably move to somewhere a group of birds this large and versatile won’t be so noticed.”

Rule seemed to consider this for a moment, but apparently he had a fast bird brain.

“I acknowledge your thoughts. In ten minutes we will most likely be in the air and flying back to where… we live.”

“Who’s ‘we?’” Clarence questioned, narrowing his eyes.

“The first time I said ‘we,’” Rule answered, “was referring to me and Corvus, as well as your trio of siblings. The second one, referring to where we live, excludes you and your siblings and represents me and Corvus as a pair of birds. Our home is far out of the way, you know.”

Clarence was about to ask where their home was, but thought better of it. If Rule didn’t specify himself, then he probably didn’t want to tell them yet. Maybe he would later.

By now Rhys was swiveling around in his path and heading back towards the group. Clarence guessed he would be a bit different landing, since he was a small bird rather than a large one like Clarence. His feet were also shaped differently, which might leave them more prone to scratching in the webbing.
Rhys was looking like a natural gull, and if you stuck him in a group of about twenty he wouldn’t look much different except for the novice air about his flight. It was unexplainably different than watching other birds. It was similar to trying to tell the difference between a red apple and an apple that was red on the side you could see but had a bright green spot on the other side just outside your field of vision. Rhys probably just had a bit of that human tone in him, but Clarence guessed that that was a trait his brother shared with Ava and himself.

Rhys’s white shape drew constantly closer, and in the matter of about a minute he inclined his wings and slowed to a halt on the rough ground, leaving nine minutes for Ava’s flying lesson, with Clarence coming along on deck. Clarence shuffled his feet in anticipation. It was true that good things come to those who wait, but if you’re waiting for a good thing it feels as if the wait is longer!

After a rather jumpy congratulation from Caerulea, the heron turned to Ava. Clarence cringed; Rule was far larger than Ava and looked as if he might eat her, and although Rule was helpful and seemed trustworthy, it was still a suspenseful sight.

The little swallow met Rule’s gaze determinedly. “My turn,” she stated, with a point of her wing towards Clarence. “And if you don’t mind, he’s coming with me.”

“That’s all right,” Rule assured her, and then stepped back. Apparently Ava was free to take off whenever she wanted to.

“You ready to go, Clarence?” she asked him, already compacting herself to get ready for the first jump.

“You bet!” Clarence replied happily, and almost without waiting for her launched himself about five feet into the air. Moments later, a blurred black shape shot past him like a bullet. It was as if Ava’s plumage had actually changed colors, although Clarence knew that it was just a trick of the light.

Clarence witnessed only a moment of her flight and knew instantly that the style was different from his own. Unlike him, she relied on the smaller air currents and usually went where they took her rather than switching currents depending on her destination. She was more like a paper airplane than a bird – she flew faster and rarely pumped her wings – and most of the work was done by the winds on which she rode. In contrast to Rhys and himself, Ava already seemed like a master at flying, even though it was probably only her style that made her seem so much more of a natural. She appeared rather unconfident, though, and faltered slightly when a breeze took her somewhere she didn’t want to go. She mostly stayed at the same altitude, although occasionally her flight pattern brought her into a dive that leveled out swiftly. It was a strange and yet wonderful sight to watch.

Clarence moved his wings in a circle for an experimental flap. It definitely kept him from wobbling so much, but it didn’t provide all that much lift. He wanted to know what flying was like for Ava, but knew that if he tried it he’d crash into the ground before he could even think about what he was doing.

Ava’s first turn looked more expertly handled than his. She banked smoothly and passed back into straight, level flight in the blink of an eye. In Clarence’s opinion, whatever kind of bird she was was amazing. He was thankful for being able to see this from a bird’s point of view, because if he had seen Ava’s bird from his bedroom window he probably wouldn’t care what it was doing.

Clarence chose a different air current and slid effortlessly into it. Ava was far ahead of him by now, but when it seemed as if she might disappear she banked sharper and zipped back towards him like a dart. At first it appeared as if he was going to collide with her, but she glided into a current adjacent to his and zoomed past him in the opposite direction. Perplexed and thrilled at the same time, Clarence tried to slow himself down for a turn. He slightly changed the angle of his wings so that the undersides were more forward-facing and tilted his tail feathers, quickly pivoting him around in her direction.
What amazed him was the feeling of slowing down while still being in the air. He knew that the current was still supporting him, but at the same time he felt like he was falling faster than was physically possible, and the sensation made his vision blur with hypothetical motion. He just wanted to sit there and float like that forever, but eventually the falling would become real.

Slightly dejected, Clarence eased himself out of the sitting-like position and continued along the pathway.

Clarence followed Ava along her route, which was difficult considering how much faster she flew and how erratic her pattern was. Fortunately he still knew where she was headed, so he would at least meet her back there.

Temporarily he turned his attention to the sun again. It hopefully hadn’t been too long since he had last noticed the time, because he didn’t want his family-birds to get trampled. He was also considering Corvus and Rule’s probability of getting trampled, and he did indeed care about them too, although family seemed like priority to him.

Clarence’s mind immediately shot back to flying as he felt the current under his starboard wing falter. He panicked and started to flail, but his bird-mind told him to calm down and find a different current that wasn’t so affected by nearby movement. With a deep breath, he let himself fall down to a different path, and then relaxed as he crossed over a wind that lifted him a little higher. Somehow he felt safer when he was farther from the ground, although he knew that it meant a farther fall and more chance of death. But his bird-mind told him that if you fell for a longer time period, you’d have more time to right yourself. Plus, if you’re higher, there are fewer predators who can get you, the voice told him.

Clarence let himself slowly lose altitude. Right now he wanted to get back to the others so that they didn’t get squashed under human feet. And then they’d be on their way to… somewhere. Probably wherever Rule lived, since he had mentioned fetching them from someplace.

Clarence inclined himself again and lowered his talons to the ground until he had a suitable flat-perch on the tainted grey sidewalk. As soon as he was stable he shuffled his feet anxiously. Only a matter of time until the students started coming, and then real danger would be upon them.

He managed to hold his beak closed until Rule finished critiquing Ava on her flight, and then he had to burst out, “We should leave now. The humans will be coming this way really soon. If you want to lead us somewhere I’d prefer if you did it now.”

Silence hung in the air for a short while, and Clarence noticed his siblings shifting uncomfortably. He couldn’t tell whether he had embarrassed them or whether they shared his impatience, though.

“If you say so, we take our leave,” Rule said quizzically. “Everyone ready?”
Clarence witnessed nods from everyone in the group, excluding the apparently perpetually silent Corvus. She stretched her wings in approval and then flicked her beak at one of her feathers.

“Then we depart now,” Rule stated. “If you need help flying, let me or Corvus know.”

Clarence’s eyes flicked uneasily to Corvus. She only seemed capable of making small chirping noises rather than actually speaking.

“Time to go,” Clarence told himself, and jumped into a pathway just after Rule rose expertly into the air. Corvus followed close behind in her own shut-beak manner.

Clarence beat his wings in what he thought might be an eagle-like style. He didn’t want to totter too much, and ascended higher into the current. Maybe he should flap like that from now on.

The falling sensation intensified, and he pumped his wings again. Perhaps he should move into a different pathway.

Rule rose even higher into the air, probably for safety. Clarence navigated himself into a wind that blew him up higher than the others. At first he was intimidated, but he soon experienced that higher winds were more sturdy and direct and were easier to traverse.

As he soared simply above the now-unfamiliar human constructions whose names had evaded him, he carefully looked over his shoulder for a split second. The brick colored walls of his house flashed in his mind, and he looked back ahead. His home wasn’t his anymore, at least not right now. At this time, he was in a bird’s body and a bird’s life. This was now, and the past was long gone. Retreating to his past life now would be like intentionally letting himself fall from the sky and die. There would be no turning back.

--

The black and white bird crouched in her chamber of branches. She was about two feet tall, with a wingspan just over double that amount. This room she lived in – hers – was in the peaceful canopy of a four hundred year old blue-pine tree, but was shrouded in darkness and slate blue by the surrounding trees. This bird, a swallow-tailed kite, preferred hushed light rather than bright sun or total blackness.

The branches and needles that made up the floor were rough and comforting under her talons; she had shuffled around on them for most of the day after hearing that a group of three new Demoned-Birds, two brothers and a sister, had just been harvested and were being retrieved by Scouter Caerulea right now. She couldn’t help wondering what sorts of birds they were. Hopefully they weren’t all the same species, or The Bloodline might be too easily tainted, or even clotted. Lady Melinda wouldn’t be happy with that, but she wasn’t one to make careless mistakes.

The kite leaned forwards and flapped her misty, tuxedo-patterned wings. Mainly her feathers were white, but they blended to black below her shoulders and stayed that way. Her primary feathers, the lower rim of her wings, were also black, adding a mirage-like shadow to her plumage. Ultimately, a human would think she was wearing a suit.

The diminishing sunlight strengthened fuchsia for half a minute and deep shadows were cast on the tree-floor. The kite instinctively gripped her branch tighter, and as the wind picked up she pumped her wings to keep her talons locked. Then the sun died behind a cloud again, and the kite’s normal vision returned. The speeding wind and darkness brought with them another handsome swallow-tailed kite. First its white shape was bold against the orange-tinged sky and tenebrous pine branches, but then the shadow cloaked its form until seconds before it darted through the branches. In the way that it extended its hooked talons and lofted itself agilely onto a thick branch with its broad wings, one could tell that it was calm and entirely unperturbed by the presence of the female kite. Nor was the female apparently perturbed by the newcomer.

The female drew closer to the newcomer, as if to greet it. “Where were you?” she asked, although her inflection was gentle rather than scolding.

The newcomer kite folded its wings in as if to keep itself warm in the chilled wind, and then opened its bill to speak, but its masculine voice was unnaturally quiet, even at a comfortable effort. He sounded like a small creek running over multitudes of tiny, jagged pebbles that was put into words and shoved into his throat.

“You fly for leisure as well, don’t you?” said the male kite, looking as if he wanted to sleep. He fluffed, however, and then ran his beak quickly in one stroke over the female’s crown feathers.

The female kite exhaled and returned the preening gesture. Afterwards, though, she said nothing.

“It will be a cold night,” commented the male kite, as if urging his female companion to speak.

“Think about staying warm,” she agreed finally. She paused for a minute and then changed the subject, turning her gaze away from the male a little.
“Caerulea just got sent out to fetch three more Demoned-birds… do you think The Startup is coming this soon already?”

The male swallow-tailed kite didn’t answer. He inched closer to her and preened her head for a few minutes again before suddenly swiveling around and crouching in flight-ready position so that his prominent shoulders and back seemed to clench her being out of existence.

“You’re going out again?” the female inquired, although she sounded more as if she was confirming something than worrying. The sky outside had faded even closer to black, and white stars were slowly illuminating themselves and dotting the sky in a scattered mosaic.

The male sighed and relaxed himself, although he seemed more thoughtful than exasperated. He turned his head towards her and gazed at her with deep, dark brown eyes, as if he was conveying a message with telepathy. After a second, he turned his sight back around to the azure expanse beyond the branches. The newly risen moon passed its light into the tree-hollow. With its reflected brightness, the male’s white feathers glowed silver, and his chocolate eyes shined a brilliant jade green, casting aside the false shell of darkness that was usually set over them. Only his black feathers remained dark, a blotch of ink against the varying colors of the sky and moonlight.

As this occurred, the female seemed to freeze. The blue-green glow of his eyes washed a tsunami of cold over her, and she shuddered.

Almost as if he could clearly see this happening, the male looked at her with a glint of sympathy in his eyes, the penetrating, eagle-like pupils contrasting his illuminated green irises. He blinked, and then looked away, as if ashamed of his ensorcelling brilliance, or reflecting upon some sad, regretful event of the past.

“Of all birds you should know best how solitary I am,” he breathed, almost confessed, and there was definitely an air of remorse in his voice, as if he really was delving deep into the carnage-filled past. “I… I need time on my own. Time to think.” Without another of his jagged, quiet words apart from a ragged breath, he spread his great wings and lifted off silently into the night like an owl.

The female kite seemed hopeless but contrarily satisfied. She shuffled along the branch and settled herself into a nest of twigs and monochromatic feathers.

She couldn’t help considering how dangerous it was for non-owl birds to be flying after dusk. Kites were a small variety of raptor-avians and could easily make a meal for the larger versions. Even so, the female slipped into slumber easily, for she knew that the male was a capable – and by some means dangerous – kite.
__________________

Why would anyone want to turn back time? There’s no meaning in regret. No point in thinking about things I could have done. Because there’s no guarantee that any decision is the right one.
-Ryunosuke, Wild Adapter 6


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Old 11-10-2010, 03:48 AM
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Default Re: mM's NaNoWriMo - Clarence's Jacket (title subject to change)

-Chapter Four: Crossing the Uncharted Lands
Clarence removed his head from the comfort of his dusty back feathers. The sun poked into the side of his vision, announcing its position of early morning.

Clarence and his family, accompanied by Caerulea and Corvus, had flown through the day and landed for sleep when dusk made itself comfortable. So far they hadn’t eaten anything, but Clarence was sure that Rule would tell them how to find food as soon as everyone was awake. Clarence instinctively dipped his beak into his breast and began preening through his plumage.

As he groomed, he kept an eye on the other birds in the forested hollow. Ava was the least visible, her dark blue coat blending in with the subdued tones of the woods. Naturally, Rhys stood out the most with his flashy white feathers and yellow feet.

Blue movement caught Clarence’s eye. He immediately turned his head to Rule, who was stretching his wings in a yawn. Before the heron had a chance to begin preening, Clarence called him over with a hushed squawk.

Once Rule was in earshot, he asked, “Are you and Corvus going to teach us how to get food soon?”

Rule seemed stunned by the question for a moment, but he recovered and answered quickly.

“Of course! Do you think I would let the three newest birds starve? That wouldn’t help with The Startup.”

“The Startup?” Clarence questioned, squinting a bit.

“You really think I should tell you what The Startup is?” Rule retorted. “You’ll learn soon enough when we get to the Nightstar Fortress.”

Clarence let his jaw drop in confusion. To him, Rule was blathering random nonsense, but he thought that he wouldn’t know what any of this meant for a while. If Rule wanted to keep secrets, his apparently high position gave him that right. As long as he taught Clarence and the others how to live as birds.

Clarence, slightly frustrated, turned away from Rule. As far as he knew, the others weren’t awake yet. He pondered the possibility of a flight by himself – just circling above the clearing. It’d at least give him a chance to get used to height and to learn to fly more vertically than horizontally.

Clarence shoved himself from the shackles of the ground and rejoiced once his only supports were the air currents. He immediately rode on one that brought him mainly upward, but also forced him to pivot around, for it was pushing him backwards as well. He really wasn’t used to this height, and to tell the truth he was both exhilarated and frightened. The human part of his mind told him that he was “gonna fall, gonna fall, gonna fall, gonna die,” but the bird part of his mind felt extremely safe and relaxed. The clash of emotions was perplexing, but he erred on the side of bird and convinced himself that the winds were enough to support his body, mainly because it was much lighter now, and he actually had wings that would help him stay in the air.

As the ground retreated further, he felt freer. Now he knew what people really meant when they said “as free as a bird,” because he understood now that birds were not bound by the laws of gravity and thus could traverse just about any terrain they wanted. Now that he was on that wonderful freedom side, he thought that if he had to become a human again, he would regret not being able to fly. That was mainly because he was erring on the bird side of his brain now, but he had the notion that even his human side shared his eagle’s opinion.

The current eased out, and he estimated that he was six hundred feet above the ground. It probably wasn’t accurate, since he really wasn’t used to being this high, but it didn’t really matter. He decided that he would stay up here until the others woke up or his wings got tired – whichever was sooner. He wanted to fly for as long as possible, and now that he thought about it diving really wasn’t the same at all.

He fluctuated his height slightly until he found a pathway that led him in a circle above the clearing. From here he could easily see each horizon, the east illuminated by the rising sun and the west still darkened by the absence of light. It was peaceful being up here, knowing that all the troubles were left on the ground, and only the refreshing breeze accompanied Clarence this high into the sky.

He glanced back down into the clearing. From here it was just a small round circle dotted with what he knew were birds – his companions. Everyone appeared safe, and he counted just to make sure. Excluding him, there were four, which was the right amount.

After what he guessed was five minutes of soaring gently on the amiably supporting wind, he decided that he should go down and check on the others. Maybe it was breakfast time. The moment he thought of the word “breakfast,” his stomach growled. As expected. Clarence let himself laugh, and he slowly descended. He didn’t quite know how to land without very much space yet, but he was confident that he could figure it out.

He slid out of his circular pathway and slowly let himself spiral down towards the ground. He wasn’t on any designated pathway, so he did have to pump his wings a lot more – and due to his lack of mastery at flight, this caused quite a bit of wobbling. He had to change the angle of his wings every so often to avoid rolling over. Fortunately, though, he stayed relatively stable on the way through his descent.

When he estimated he was about fifteen feet above the ground, he slackened his shoulders a little bit. This kept him falling slightly faster, but he reached out with his talons in preparation to grasp the forest floor. When he fell to five feet, he began lofting himself with his wings to avoid a crash. In a matter of seconds, the soles of his feet touched down to the soft forest earth, and he folded his wings into his sides. Rhys was milling around doing something, but Clarence wasn’t sure what. Ava appeared to be preening, and naturally, so was Rule.

But at first, Corvus was nowhere to be seen. Clarence’s vision darted around to look for some sign of her, and it only took him a few seconds to catch a flash of red. He whirled around to find its source; as he had suspected, it was Corvus. She was perched on a tree, but not pecking it. Maybe she was just watching for trouble. Maybe crow woodpeckers didn’t peck trees at all.

Clarence relaxed, and he glanced at Rule. He seemed absorbed in his preening, but doubtless he would teach Clarence and his siblings how to find food soon. The eagle doubted Rule would let them starve.

Clarence thought that he might groom through his own feathers for a minute. He twisted his neck and started on his upper back, delving into the depths of his black feathers. He was a little surprised to find downy white feathers beneath his darker ones – perhaps those were what kept him so warm. He paid special attention to these under-feathers, since his assuming was that these feathers were smaller and more closely-packed, so they would more easily get mottled and tangled.

He rose to his over-feathers shortly after that, but before he could get too focused on preening, he heard a loud shriek from a nearby bird. Startled, Clarence whirled around, but found that it was only Rule trying to get the others’ attention. Frustrated and slightly bristling, Clarence hopped over the ten-foot distance towards the heron.

After about twenty seconds, Rhys and Ava had come over. However, Corvus was still darting about the ring of trees surrounding the clearing as if scouting for enemies, or maybe food sources.

“I bet you’re all hungry, right?” Rule asked, almost encouragingly.

Clarence held out his left wing and stretched in response. Rule had a strange, aloof personality, and he didn’t want to encourage it. Meanwhile, both of his siblings gave their approval.

“That’s why we’re teaching you guys how to get food,” Rule told them.

“Seagull – in the wild, you’d normally eat human trash – but why not find something much more appetizing?”

Clarence tapped his foot, which he guessed had the same meaning as a human rolling his eyes. Now Caerula was just getting sort of ridiculous. It was like a teacher from some fantasy story.

“Insects and fish sound appetizing to me right now,” Rhys said wistfully.

“How about eggs?” Rule urged. “Your species, the California Gull, can eat eggs sometimes too.”

Rhys cringed, but then seemed to calm down. “It’s not cannibalism, is it?”

“Nope. Think about how a cobra eats other snakes.”

Rhys didn’t reply for a minute. Finally, he said, “So I have to take eggs from other birds’ nests?”

“That’s the best way to do it, yes. Abandoned eggs don’t usually taste very good.”

Rhys cringed again. He didn’t seem eager to kill other birds in their eggs, much less scare the parents away. “It sounds really tasty, but… are you sure they won’t kill me?”

Clarence was concerned for his little brother. He knew that if Rhys really did steal an egg, he would feel extremely guilty for thieving. Clarence wondered if his species ever ate eggs. They sounded pretty delicious to him right about now.

“They won’t kill you if you do it right,” Rule told him darkly.

Clarence could tell from the expression on his face that Rhys was still unsure. His suspicions were confirmed when Rhys replied to Rule.

“I think I’ll go for fish, thanks.” The gull seemed to brighten up after this. “I sure would like to catch a fish! Oh, boy, I can’t wait!” He started bouncing around like a five-year-old waiting in line for a huge bowl of candy.

Rule shuffled around uncertainly. “I can show you how to catch a fish the heron way, but maybe Clarence’s instincts might show you how to catch it the eagle way. Which would you prefer?”

Rhys looked at his feet for a split second, but then met the heron’s intimidating gaze again. “I think I’ll do better with the… heron way, as you say it. My feet aren’t like Clarence’s talons. No, not nearly. Thanks in advance for teaching me, Caerula!”

Rule seemed flattered, and then used his wading gait to stroll closer to Rhys. As with Ava, he was intimidatingly large, but Rhys didn’t seem to be bothered by the size difference.

“Before that… Ava, go with Corvus. She can teach you how to catch insects.”

Ava twitched a little, as if disgusted by the idea of insects. Or maybe it was the idea of working with a silent instructor. Nevertheless, she waited until Corvus flitted down in front of her, and then disappeared into the trees behind the crow woodpecker.

“So what do I do?” Clarence asked Rule before the heron could fly away.

Rule’s wings spread out a little. “If you like fish, you could come with us. But since your species mainly eats small animals, you could stay here and figure it out yourself if you want.”

Clarence considered this. He should probably spend time with his siblings, but he felt like being solitary. Maybe the African black eagle was a solitary bird. He also thought it would be fun to experiment on different techniques with which he could catch a mouse or something.

“I’m fine on my own,” he told Rule. “But when will you meet back here?”

“About an hour before the sun reaches its peak.”

“All right.” Clarence paused until his brother and the slate-blue bird flew off, and then he rose into the air by himself. Perhaps he could practice navigating around trees as he hunted.

He rode on the wind until he found a path towards a strong-looking branch. From what he had seen of other birds, he was supposed to fly lower than the branch and then curve up so that he landed on it in a stable fashion rather than overbalancing forwards and falling flat on his face.

Clarence let himself descend slightly, and kept his sharp eagle’s eyes on the branch. When he thought he was relatively close, he pumped his wings vaguely, and it caused him to rise in a loose curve. He reached out for the branch with his talons, and was able to grasp it. Instinctively, his toes locked, and he beat his wings a few times to balance himself before he tucked them away at his sides. He exhaled sharply, excited by being able to rest without coming in contact from the ground. From here, he could see considerably farther (or he would be had several trees not been in his way). He ran his gaze along the loamy earth, trying to find a hint of movement that would signal a tasty snack. The first thing he thought of was a mouse, but surely there were other things to eat. He would try to stay away from other birds, though – the thought of eating a bird unsettled him. It was probably similar to the way his brother thought of stealing eggs. If possible, he would focus mainly on mice – or squirrels. Squirrels were another possibility.

He stared intently at the section of forest until he caught movement. As fast as he could, he whipped his eyes towards the source. What he saw was a patch of ground slightly lighter than the surrounding area, but only just. He hadn’t seen this animal before, though. It looked like a beaver with no tail, although as far as he could tell there was no sign of it being chopped off somehow. There wasn’t really any way it could be severed, since there were no humans around here as far as Clarence knew. Its face was more like a mouse’s, as well. Overall it was a rather confusing animal, but Clarence’s eagle side told him that it would make a tasty meal.

He studied its movements carefully. It didn’t appear to have noticed him, but he kept himself still just in case it did. The strange animal looked as if it was chewing on something, but Clarence couldn’t tell for sure. He crouched down to prepare for quick flight; he didn’t know how to fly faster than normal, but he was confident that he would be able to find out. Perhaps he needed more propelling from his wings? Or maybe a faster air current altogether?

Clarence considered the possibility of his meal running away while he sat here on a tree branch thinking about how strange it was. He momentarily considered how far along he was with his plan, and told himself that it was good enough. As Clarence leapt off the branch towards the strange animal, he had to suppress a victory screech. Good thing it never came out – that would have spoiled his plan entirely. Great way to tell your breakfast exactly where you are.

He tried to be as silent as possible. Hopefully the “strange animal,” as he had taken to calling it, wouldn’t notice him, even though he was like a huge shadow falling over a great illuminated area. He kept his feathers loose but steady, which he hoped would lower the amount of noise he created in his flight. However, as the seconds that seemed like hours finally drew by, he decided that he was too close to the strange animal for noise to matter. He finally screamed as loud as he could, letting out with it all the stress and waiting. As he had logically suspected, the light fawn mouse-type thing snapped its head towards him, and after what seemed like less than a jiffy it was off and running.

Even more irritated, Clarence gave his flight a powerful pump of his wings that was focused backwards rather than upwards or down. It definitely increased his speed, but at the same time he felt like he would slam into the ground without warning.

He readied his talons for the grab – the strange animal was just in front of him, but he needed more speed to be able to keep up with its swiftly moving gait if he was going to catch it. He gave another rapid flap of his wings, and at the same time he stretched out his talons as far as they would go and flexed his toes. He felt something soft under his flesh (but his vision, blurred by excitement and motion, didn’t let him know what it was) and immediately clutched his talons around it. At first, he felt only a rough surface, and his heart sank (he thought it was a stick); but suddenly he sensed warm blood and flesh, and knew with elation that he had succeeded in his catch. He gripped the strange animal tightly, but kept his talons loose enough that they wouldn’t stab straight through his meal. With a few powerful flaps of his wings, he had found an escalating air current, and was rising again. He carefully let himself loft onto the ground after the wind eased out, and without thinking jabbed his beak into the back of the strange animal’s neck to kill it. It shivered with some unknown emotion, and then grew still.

Clarence flinched, but at the same time he felt a strong sense of triumph. He had caught his own meal since his turning into a bird. Hopefully this meant he would be successful later in his life, wherever it might take him.

Clarence quickly, and more gingerly, dipped his beak into the flesh of his breakfast. As far as he knew, it would be best to consume it before the rigor mortis – that was, the stiffness of its body that would set in after a while – set in, or his meat might be unsatisfyingly tough.

As soon as his tongue contacted the flesh, satisfaction rose through his body. This was unlike the other food he had eaten. He would describe the flavor in his mind with his human words, but there really was no way to do so. He couldn’t think of a food he had eaten as a human that had tasted even remotely similar to this.

He told himself not to eat too quickly, but nevertheless he had somehow eaten everything but a few unappetizing parts and the bones in a matter of what he thought might be an hour, or maybe three-quarters of one. He glanced up at the sky. The sun probably wasn’t even near its eleven-o-clock position yet, which would leave him more time to fly alone. He wasn’t sure what to do with the remains of his meal, though; should he bury them, or leave them as is? He reflected on this idea for about two minutes, and came to the conclusion that it would be best to bury them, as just leaving them on top of the soil might bring unwanted visitors. Digging a hole with his talons, he deposited the remains of his breakfast into the alcove, and then covered it again with the earth he had displaced.

Clarence crouched down and raised his wings. A thought passed quickly through his head, but it was just a blur of feelings with no distinct meaning. Ignoring this, he jumped into the air and shoved the earth down with his wings, content at the sensation of him rising from the shackles of gravity. Finally, he was free again. Free from the bindings that were experienced by the non-avian creatures of the earth.

He chose a pathway that brought him high into the air. Soon the tops of the moderately-sized trees were below him, and slowly he rose over the taller, more ancient trees of the forest. He watched as the greens and browns blurred by below him, and was satisfied by his velocity of fleeing from the binds of gravity and weight.

He let himself slow to a level path as he reached higher into the sky. It was a clear cyan-blue now, with only puffy clouds on the horizons. The sun beat constantly onto his black feathers, and he imagined himself as a spot of night against the brightness of the mid-morning light. He wondered briefly what he looked like to creatures below. Speaking of creatures below, he would have to ask Rule about what sort of creature might the one he had eaten for breakfast been.

Clarence used his sharp eagle eyes to scan the woods so far beneath him. He could see the pointed tops of the trees, and the deep khakis and mud colors of their branches buried beneath the needles and leaves. Now he turned his attention to the sky. It was a clear, endless expanse of turquoise, and he felt happy just to be below it. For a while he wondered what might happen if he could conquer it – if he could somehow soar above even the sky. He almost dismissed the idea as impossible, but he kept it in his mind for later. Maybe one day he might be able to accomplish it. He just never knew.

He spent countless minutes soaring above the forest on an air current like this, pondering essentially random thought and sorting out ones that might be possible someday and dismissing the ones that were just wild dreams. However, he always kept one eye so that he knew the sun’s position – it would be useless to have Ava, Rhys and the others wait for him while he kept himself stuck up here and shrouded in the invisible winds of his fantasies.

Clarence finally noticed that the sun would be at its peak position in about an hour. Unfortunately, it was time for his paradise in the air to come to an end, and he could get back in touch with his siblings and – who he had come to appreciate now – teachers. By ‘teachers,’ he meant Rule and Corvus, even though the former could be quite irritating sometimes with his naïve, jumpy, assertive attitude and his constant urge to preen. Corvus was silent, but other than that she seemed fairly perfect.

Clarence lowered himself into a current that spiraled relaxingly downwards at a shallow incline. It would bring him down to the clearing soon enough, but it would still give him some time to enjoy the weightlessness of flight.

He flexed his wings slightly – they were starting to get stiff from ostensibly endless soaring. As he considered tucking them in, he started pondering over yet another thought: diving. He reminded himself that normally only falcons dove for sustenance purposes, but maybe he could learn how to do it for fun. Perhaps Rhys would be interested in learning. Ava might also be part of the teaching department, since her swiveling, erratic style of flight seemed to include quite a plethora of split-second dives.

Clarence almost did tuck his wings in and dive, but he fought against the urge to do so; he had absolutely no idea how to pull out of a dive, and he might end up dying rather than having fun. Or maybe the dying could be accomplished as well as the fun-having. Either way, Clarence would prefer it without the loss of life.

So Clarence just let himself slowly waft down to the ground like a single feather. He landed expertly like he had so many times before. Then again, it wasn’t exactly many times at all, since he had just become a bird the morning previous to this one.

As Clarence’s talons came in contact with the stable ground, he looked around for his siblings or maybe his mentors. At first he was worried that nobody was here, but he witnessed a white shape – most likely Rhys – skimming a pathway of moderately sized trees with a slate blue shape following close behind. That shape was most likely Caerulea.

Clarence breathed a sigh of relief, and in about ten seconds he also noticed Ava and Corvus returning from their trip. From the way Ava was darting about here and there without running into anything, she must be pretty satisfied. As always, Corvus was silent, although her manner of flight somewhat resembled Ava’s.

Clarence stood in the clearing until the four other birds had a chance to settle themselves on flat ground again. He didn’t know how he could comment on their return, though, and so he said nothing. Clarence considered plunging his beak into his feathers to preen, but doing so at a conversational time like this might be unnecessary.

“So what now?” he asked finally as he was greeted with silence.

Naturally, Rule was the one to reply. “Now that we’re all full and probably know how to catch food for future reference” – he shot a strange look at Clarence, but also seemed to give Rhys some attention – “We should work on crossing the Uncharted Lands.”

“Uncharted Lands?” Clarence echoed, feeling somewhat mystified. He had never heard of a place with such a mysterious name before.

“You heard right,” Rule told him. “They are called such because no bird has landed to learn the territory before. It’s far too dangerous. According to reliable stories, if a bird lands on those sandy grounds, he’ll lose his urge to fly under the unrelenting sun and starve there. If he doesn’t go insane or dehydrate first.”

Clarence cringed. It sounded like a gory children’s tale, but he had no choice to listen to a knowledgeable source like Rule. Why would his mentor want to trick him now, after over twenty-four hours of a bird’s life?

“So we have to fly nonstop over these Lands until we reach the other end?” he questioned, still fairly unsure. “By any chance do you know how wide they are?”

“Of course I do!” Rule replied somewhat harshly. “I crossed them on the way here to fetch you. I’d say it’s about four or five leagues across. Maybe more.”
Clarence kept a straight face, but he felt deep inside that he was stunned. “A whole eight to ten miles and maybe more? How long does it take to cross that kind of distance?”

“Depending on how fast you fly, it might take half a day or more. So be sure we’re all prepared.”

Clarence nodded slowly in apprehension. He glanced towards Rhys and Ava, who were considerably quieter than he had been but seemed to understand as well.

“So we’re leaving now?” Rhys asked, almost too naively.

“Naturally!” Rule replied. “As long as everyone’s ready.”

Clarence tapped his foot again. That phrase seemed overused by Caerulea.

“In that case, we’re leaving now. Just follow Corvus and me and you won’t get lost.”

With that, Rule lifted himself to the air and made for a path with which he could crest the treetops. Corvus hesitated slightly but followed shortly after. Finally, the three siblings took flight as a group, with Clarence making sure he went last.

Clarence relaxed as the sensation of flight returned. He preferred feeling the air under his wing and talons rather than damp, messy soil. It just seemed more natural to him somehow.

Even as he took extra care to stay at the rear, he noticed that Rule was falling back, as if he wanted to speak with him for some reason. Reluctantly, Clarence let himself fly forward a bit farther. If the heron wanted to talk to him, it was most likely important in some way.

Once Rule had slowed down enough, he began to speak out of his long, slender beak.

“How was breakfast?” he asked amiably, almost as if he was trying to trick Clarence into saying something.

“I caught some strange animal,” Clarence answered. “It was like a beaver with a mouse’s head. And it had no tail.”

“Oh, that’s a hyrax,” Caerulea explained casually. “Your species is supposed to be an expert at hunting them. So you enjoyed it, I presume? Eh, of course you did. African black eagles eat those all the time.”

Clarence grimaced irritably, and returned his vision to his flight path. These were one of the times where Rule was annoying, but he guessed that he’d have to put up with it until he could be independent.

“Anything else?” Clarence questioned, and accidentally let a hint of a growl get into his voice. However, Rule didn’t seem to notice, and just returned to the front of the group so that he could ride point. And so he doesn’t have to leave the whole job to a mute woodpecker.

Clarence let Rule fly ahead. He was glad to be able to keep his thoughts to himself now, and he was aware of the wind beneath his wings that always comforted him. Out of curiosity, he glanced downward – sure enough, the ground was fading to become sparser, and the trees were slowly becoming either stunted or nonexistent. The therapeutic brown tones of the forest floor were transitioning to a dusty brown that made Clarence nervous. He was uncomfortable with the fact that he was flying over unfamiliar land, much less unfamiliar desert. Apparently his species of bird was supposed to live in Africa, but his human side still came from a wet climate. This set him especially on edge.

Clarence tried to focus on the air around him and the blue sky that sheltered him on the upperside. This kept him in a blanket of chilled wind and familiarity, and he soon entirely forgot about the Uncharted Lands. He was sure to pay attention to his siblings and his mentors, because if he got lost he had just about no hope of surviving.

Clarence noticed that his group of birds never took a single turn; they followed pathways until they curved, then flapped their wings to traverse the empty air between their previous current and one that would bring them into a more direct path.

Clarence turned his head slightly towards his wings. To keep himself from getting bored as he flew on, he tried to feel the existence of each of his feathers; from the finger-feathers, which he had learned were called primaries, to the ones nearer to his shoulders, which he had learned were the wing coverts. He sensed that each of the surface feathers was obtaining a touch to the wind, which let him fly in a more stable fashion. He rotated his head to check the surrounding air currents; the one on which he was riding was slightly less fresh than preferable, and maybe there would be a more suitable pathway somewhere nearby.

Clarence located an air current about five feet to his starboard side. He tipped his tail feathers until he was sliding smoothly to the right, and let himself slip out of his current pathway. The tug of gravity on his body rose, and he pumped his wings to stay aloft. Soon enough, though, he was back in a familiar pathway, and the rising pull on his feathers was far more convincing. He sighed in relief, and then switched his attention to maintaining a straight route. If he got lost, he would again have no way of returning to the group without seriously subtracting from their time, and that possibly meant their safety. At least, that’s what his bird side told him.

Clarence flew for a while, stimulating himself with monitoring of the air and thoughts of the sun and sky until he noticed that his wings were getting unnaturally tired. He caught Rule’s attention with a loud screech-call, and then shouted above the high-elevation gales.

“Caerula, is it normal for my wings to be this sore when we’ve only been flying for a few hours?”

Again, Rule dropped back, and the heron soon arrived near Clarence’s side. “Since you’re fairly new De… birds, it is. We’ll find a sheltered place to rest soon. No doubt we will.” He paused for a moment, and then looked back over his powerful shoulder. “Don’t worry, Clarence. I have this handled. I haven’t lost a bird on a retrieval yet, even though I’ve only been at it for about a year. Be confident, all right?”

Rule didn’t give Clarence time to answer. Instead he sped up until he was at the bow of the group again.

Clarence was definitely comforted by his mentor’s words. He wondered what his group of birds looked like from the occasional animal down there in the Uncharted Lands. Were they just a cluster of dots, or would a perceptive creature be able to identify them as individual birds rather than just a pack of predators? Or maybe, would they even be prey?

Clarence looked down to distract himself. He hadn’t noticed the swift change from forest to completely barren rock and sand. As far as his reliable eagle eyes could see, there was absolutely no vegetation for leagues around. This caused him to rethink his previous considerations. There would probably be no animals to consider his family predator or prey – they’d either be on their last legs, or starved to death before they had a chance to even know that the group of birds was upon them.

Clarence told himself that they probably wouldn’t be hunting any animals anytime soon, let alone those who were dry and tasteless from dehydration. Today’s hyrax meal still had him fairly full, and he wasn’t planning on eating again anytime soon. Which led him back to the conclusion that he wouldn’t be hunting in this area.

He returned his attention back to wind currents.

In a matter of about twenty minutes, Clarence remembered his sore shoulders. They hurt with each beat of his wings, and his feathers seemed about to fall off and drop to the ground, rendering him flightless. However, just as he considered this thought, Rule let out some sort of calling screech, and began to descend. A dark brown shape that Clarence knew was Corvus followed him after about half a second, and then one by one the birds dropped. Yet again, Clarence made sure that he was the last to descend. He found himself a pathway that he was sure would lead him down to the ground, right in the middle of the location where his family and mentors looked to be gathering.

He allowed himself to fall slowly once more. It took him about half a minute to reach the ground, and he easily extended his talons, in the familiar landing gesture. But the land on which he grounded was everything but familiar (and moisturized). He almost recoiled and lifted off again – the earth was hard and completely impenetrable, a sickly peach-colored rock dusted with a falsely comforting, scattered cover of white sand. Now Clarence knew truly why this area was called the Uncharted Lands. Anyone who would try to chart them completely would surely die of dehydration, and he somehow doubted that there were absolutely no bird corpses hidden beneath the suspicious sands.
__________________

Why would anyone want to turn back time? There’s no meaning in regret. No point in thinking about things I could have done. Because there’s no guarantee that any decision is the right one.
-Ryunosuke, Wild Adapter 6


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Old 11-10-2010, 03:52 AM
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Default Re: mM's NaNoWriMo - Clarence's Jacket (title subject to change)

-Chapter Five: Night in the Embodiment of Death

Clarence glanced nervously at Rule. He was entirely uncomfortable spending an hour or so here on this useless, lifeless slab of rock, but he didn’t want to sound like he was complaining.

Probably due to his coast-bound nature, Rhys looked considerably less disturbed. He wasn’t used to the dryness, that was for sure, but the sand and rock was most likely familiar to his bird side underneath his webbed feet.
Ava also looked fairly unperturbed, as her species looked like it would nest in some sort of rocky outcropping. Maybe that was a different type of swallow, but still.

Rule brushed the sand under his center of gravity away with his dark silver feet. He seemed like he was used to this, but that might possibly have been because he had made this journey quite a few times before. At least, that’s how Clarence had interpreted it.

“We’ll stay here for forty-five minutes,” Rule stated, and seemed to make himself comfortable. He outwardly showed no sign of disdain at the dead terrain, but Clarence was sure that inside he was probably very irritated at the lack of moisture.

“Sounds good to me,” Ava said, although her voice was edged with nervousness. Clarence could understand why she would be so anxious; none of his siblings, or himself, was used to this kind of wasteland. At least it was better than not being able to rest at all.

Clarence brushed aside the sand under himself as well and then lowered himself onto the stone. He cringed a bit at first, but forced himself to stay calm. The rock was unnaturally cold, despite being under the sun for such a large percentage of the time during the day. Maybe that was how this desert was – the sand above the rock protected it from heat, and when the stale winds finally brushed it away it was freezing cold compared to the rest of the terrain.

Somehow Clarence managed to slip into a troubled rest. Throughout the shallow nap he was able to sense the roughness of the grit beneath his talons, and the frigid stone even through his soft feathers. His dreams were only blackness, and he wasn’t quite aware that he was asleep at all. But when he finally awoke – if you could call it awakening – from this half sleep, he was pleased to find the other four birds still around him. Rhys and Ava appeared to be sound asleep, but just as he thought this Rhys opened one deep black eye, barely rimmed with an eagle-gold. He fluffed himself, stretched one side, and then rose to his feet. He waddled over to Clarence, and the black eagle was surprised at how silently his brother was able to walk.

“You can’t sleep either?” Rhys asked, looking wistfully up at the arcing sun.

“Not quite,” Clarence replied quietly. “I’m not really even sure if you could call it resting as much as ‘just sitting there.’”

Rhys exhaled, and Clarence supported himself more with his feet. He stood all the way, and looked down at Rhys.

“I have a feeling this long journey won’t end anytime soon, either,” Rhys told his brother. “Do you think our destination is relatively safe?”

Clarence shook his head. “I really don’t know, Rhys. Let’s just hope this heron Caerulea isn’t leading us into some sort of trick.”

Rhys looked at his brother. “I doubt it. An evil villain with a silent sidekick really doesn’t seem like a bad pair to me. Corvus seems friendly enough, don’t you think?”

Clarence didn’t reply. He looked towards the far horizon, opposite from the direction in which they had come. It was starting to darken slightly, which meant that his resting time was most likely almost up.

“Watch out,” said Clarence, and he stretched his black wings. As far as he could tell, his shoulders had loosened up. When he beat his wings in a flying motion, they didn’t hurt, either. Which probably meant that he was ready to take off again and continue the journey over the Uncharted Lands.

He glanced around at the other birds. Ava was stirring, and to his surprise Rule was already wide awake and – naturally – preening. Corvus was definitely awake, as she was darting in circles around the group, probably looking for danger in her normal evasive, silent way.

Clarence was starting to feel a certain respect for Corvus. They were entirely different species, so they would never be mates, but she just seemed like an inwardly nice bird to him, even though she possibly never put her thoughts into words. As far as he knew, Corvus was completely mute, apart from the ability to produce normal noises that a human might hear from an everyday bird.

Clarence made eye contact with Rule, although it was hard. The heron always possessed those intimidating eyes that seemed to penetrate his viewer’s body almost physically. It was truly confusing for Clarence, since he never knew when Rule might be able to read his mind.

“Time to go?” Clarence asked softly, hopefully just loud enough for Rule to hear it across the stone slab.

Rule made a fairly silent nodding motion. Then, somehow, he crowed like a rooster, although there was definitely a heron-like tone to it. Clarence was startled by this loud display of noise. Surely it would let every creature within three miles know where they were? Then again, there were most likely no living things within three miles of the group, so it probably didn’t matter.

“Sorry to wake you from your magnificent slumber, friends, but we have to go.”

Clarence laughed out loud. He didn’t know whether Rule was intentionally doing this to be funny, or whether it just happened to cheer him up from this pessimistic mood thrown upon him by his being in the Uncharted Lands. Maybe Rule knew that birds who landed in the desert quickly grew depressed, and he was purposefully making them laugh to keep them from possibly committing suicide or wanting to be left behind.

Rule seemed satisfied that he had caused a wave of happiness within the group. Corvus opened her beak, too, and let out a fairly loud noise that was similar to blissful chirping, but Clarence couldn’t be sure. Corvus rarely ever made loud noises, and by now he was sure that she couldn’t speak bird language, only whatever language it was that humans heard from birds.

“So, is everyone wide-awake enough to start flying?” Rule asked nobody in particular, albeit in an unnaturally cheerful tone.

“Sure I am,” Clarence replied blissfully, “after that little stand-up comedy.”

“Don’t forget me!” Ava called out. She was sitting in the location in which she had been sitting since she landed, but she looked very lively, even for a small bird.

“I’m coming along too,” Rhys said defensively, flapping his wings in a very-gull like manner.

Of course, all Corvus did was squeak agreeably. It made Clarence smile that she found a way to express her emotions even without words.

Rule lifted into the air without another word, although it wasn’t in an ignorant way. Corvus followed close behind, and Clarence found himself zipping into the wind just behind Corvus. As the group ascended, Corvus glanced to the side and looked at Clarence. Clarence grew nervous, but the woodpecker gave him an expression that gave him the meaning of smiling. He returned the expression, and playfully tried to ascend higher. However, he ended up slowing down a little, and Corvus used her flying manner to zoom ahead of him. She called backwards in a sort of cry that sounded to Clarence as if she might be saying, “Catch me if you can!”

Clarence laughed wholeheartedly and worked on gaining altitude more quickly, trying to follow a straight path that would lead him to Corvus. Every so often the dark brown bird glanced backwards at him, probably to check if he was keeping up. If he was drawing closer, she would somehow propel herself to move forward faster and stay ahead. This only psyched him up more, and he followed her, almost drawing ahead of Rule. However the heron did his part to stay ahead and Clarence was never led astray.

Clarence glanced over his shoulder to make sure Rhys and Ava were keeping up. They were flying in a considerably calmer manner, but they were definitely not lagging behind. They seemed to enjoy being positioned as spectators for Clarence’s and Corvus’s little game of chase.

Happy to entertain them, Clarence fixed his vision on his target again. He grew worried, though, as Corvus was nowhere to be seen in front of him. He thought about backtracking to look for her, but just as he thought this the crow woodpecker appeared beside him on the port-bow end. She focused on her flight path but for a moment gazed at him from her dark eyes, abysses stuck into her head that seemed to have no end. Clarence returned her gaze with his own chocolate amber eyes, and that moment seemed to last an eternity before Corvus flew ahead again and resumed her whimsical flight pattern.

Clarence followed her with his eyes. He surely had no idea what this emotion was. It wasn’t love, since Corvus was a very different species from him, but he told himself that it was probably a very advanced friendship. He had heard of relationships like this earlier, but he never thought he would experience one. For the sake of… the sky (that was the first thing he thought of), she was small enough for him to eat her!

Clarence didn’t want to pay attention to the wind and air right now. He wanted to make Corvus feel like she belonged. He never knew her to be sullen because she couldn’t talk like the other birds, but he wanted to make sure that didn’t happen.

He slowly caught up to Corvus, although it did take quite a while to do so. He estimated at ten minutes, but when he finally reached the same point as her she made no effort to flee.

Clarence hesitated for a moment, and then told her, “Thanks for being my friend.”

He didn’t know what to say after that, but Corvus seemed to appreciate the thanks. Her wingbeats looked just a little livelier, or maybe it was Clarence’s imagination. But in situations like this, he never knew that it was the bird’s imagination. When one was sane, one’s eyes were always true, especially when they were an eagle’s eyes. And Clarence had an eagle’s eyes.
__________________

Why would anyone want to turn back time? There’s no meaning in regret. No point in thinking about things I could have done. Because there’s no guarantee that any decision is the right one.
-Ryunosuke, Wild Adapter 6


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Old 11-10-2010, 03:57 AM
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Default Re: mM's NaNoWriMo - Clarence's Jacket (title subject to change)

-Chapter 6: Keith the Silver Moonlight Swordsman

The swallow-tailed kite still perched in her tree-hollow. She had been anxious the night before last as the male kite, Keith, had flown off and not returned until morning, but she was grateful to finally have him back. Somehow she preferred it when he had more time to do what he wanted to do rather than what she wanted him to do. Maybe she was too whimsical. Hopefully he wouldn’t think she was too bossy.

Now the male kite Keith was back in the tree-hollow, his silvery white and black feathers standing out against the earthly browns and blues of the pine tree. His dark black eyes which had shined green the night before now showed no sign of glowing again. He was definitely taller than the female kite, Kokoro, who was glad that she wasn’t bigger than him. For some reason Kokoro was uncomfortable with Keith not being of substantial size to protect her. She felt that if he wasn’t any taller than her, she wouldn’t be able to hide behind him. It was strange, really, and she hadn’t heard of it anywhere else before. Maybe she was just being paranoid. Or maybe she had known him for too long.

Kokoro ran her beak through his feathers quickly and sparingly. Now the thing she was worried about was him scolding her for being so strange about how he looked.

Keith gave no such scolding, though. He merely shuffled away slightly. She looked up at his face for any sign of a frown, but as always his black eyes and bill were fixed into a stolid expression that often showed emotion, but the expressions were hard to catch unless you knew how to look for them. As far as she was concerned only Kokoro could tell what Keith was feeling by looking at him.

“You’re probably going to go fly out again, right?” she asked him, although she almost dropped the question tone (and, metaphorically, broke it).

Keith didn’t answer, but Kokoro knew that he really didn’t need to. The one thing he was good saying was silence. And when he did speak, he had a quiet voice, as if he had yelled a long time ago and then some low-flying vulture came along and sheared off the top two-thirds of it. Instead, Keith bent his head and started preening the feathers on the other side of his left wing, revealing his pronounced collarbone. It was clearly visible under his feathers, although normally it was impossible to see since his neck feathers would provide a sort of ruff over that ring around his throat.

Kokoro stepped away as he began preening. The one of the two things in the world she was probably afraid of was insulting Keith in some way, or making him feel offended or uncomfortable. The other thing she was afraid of she always kept to herself, unless she could somehow share it without mentioning Keith’s name, or even the fact that he was important to her. She was just strange, that way. If she could summarize it, she’d probably say that she was scared of others judging her. Not only that, but she hated being scolded. Overall, she thought herself an unnaturally timid bird.

She compacted herself slightly and began running her own beak through her own plumage. She didn’t want the white feathers to get messed up, or the black ones.

Maybe she should get out to fly soon. She hadn’t exercised her wings in a while, and she didn’t want to get out of shape. It wasn’t like birds to forget how to fly, but if they were mentally unstable it just might happen.

She glanced at Keith from below her primary feathers. She liked seeing him peaceful more than in motion for some reason. It just seemed like a more artful scene to her.

She watched intently as he spread his wings and pumped them a few times, as if psyching himself up. But Kokoro knew that he wasn’t that sort of rash, excited type. He was either entertaining her on purpose or being that sort of philosophical bird which seemed to fit him almost naturally.

Kokoro edged out of her preening and shuffled along the branch until she found a break in the needles that she thought might be suitable through which to fly. She crouched down and stretched her wings, preparing for takeoff. What she thought odd was that Keith immediately stepped up beside her and repeated the procedure. She hadn’t considered this before. Maybe he was harder to understand than she thought?

“Why are you coming with me?” she questioned, although she tried not to sound rejecting.

“You told me last night that Caerulea was retrieving more birds,” he told her. “I might have to accompany them across the Uncharted Lands.”

She sighed inwardly. Keith knew the Uncharted Lands better than any other bird. He had practically grown up on the border, as far as she knew. There wasn’t really any way she could stop him, though.

“I’m going to get something to eat,” she said uselessly, and lifted off into the air without waiting for him. She didn’t really pay attention to any specific pathway – she’d probably just choose one of the less populated areas of the Hunting Forest and eat something from there. To tell the truth, she didn’t feel too hungry, but she didn’t want to let herself starve either.

Kokoro let her pathway lift her onto a different current, and she navigated in a fairly straight line from there. The Hunting Forest was to the east, away from the noonday sun. She wouldn’t have to have its glare in her eyes as she ate her meal alone. She liked being with Keith, but when he wasn’t with her she preferred that nobody else was. She thought herself strange that way, but she didn’t really have too many good friends anyway.

Kokoro descended upon the canopy of trees for her lunch.

--

As Clarence tired out from the game and slackened his pace with Corvus, he noticed a black and white speck in the distance. Due to its height, he had no doubt it was another bird, but its whimsical flight pattern reminded him of a swallow. He hadn’t seen or heard of a bird like this before. Who could it possibly be?

The bird slowly drew closer, its flying style erratic and swinging. Clarence squinted curiously. Was the bird coming to attack them or greet them? Rule seemed relaxed, so it must be an ally. Or maybe the heron hadn’t noticed the other bird yet. Hopefully it was the former – Clarence didn’t want to die after such a short life of being a bird. He wanted as much time to fly as he could get.

As the distance between the group and the black and white bird narrowed, Clarence grew more nervous. He couldn’t help imagining that that bird was coming nearer only so that it could harm them. Even if it was friendly, there was an imposing and intimidating air about it that must have made it seem like an enemy to everyone.

The minutes slipped by as if they were hours, and the sun seemed to be hesitating as it rode its everlasting path across the sky. Clarence urged it to move, but still the looming bird was getting closer by the second, even if it felt as if time was standing still.

After an excruciating amount of time Clarence hadn’t bothered to calculate, the black and white bird came near enough so that he could make out its features. It was white on its head, chest, and underside, with black on its back and shadowing the primary feathers on its wings. Its bill looked sharp but short, and its tail was forked like a swallow’s. Its dark brown eyes, almost black, were thoughtful and penetrating, which only increased Clarence’s worry that the bird was going to hurt them.

As Rule examined its features, he looked as if he might falter out of flight.

This confused Clarence, and he was only more deeply perplexed when the heron darted ahead to greet the newcomer. Rule’s chatter was mixed up from this distance and he couldn’t hear it, but it sounded like the heron was trying to be either formal or respectful. This place just seemed to be getting weirder and weirder.

Then again, the black-and-white bird did seem to be royal, at least in appearance. Its pattern was aesthetically pleasing, but not exactly pretty. Clarence’s human side told him that it looked like it was wearing a suit. This caused Clarence to assume that it was a male, but it still was likely to be female. Clarence would have to hear its voice first.

The two birds seemed to hang in the air for a while, as if waiting for the group to catch up. Corvus suddenly ducked down and descended, which caused Clarence to be even more bemused. He circled her for a while and watched as his siblings returned to the earth. Deciding to follow suit rather than stay in the air and look stupid, he did so.

Again, he disliked the gritty feeling of sand and rock underneath his talons, but he was grateful for the second impromptu rest. Apparently it was to have some sort of conversation with the newcomer bird, who seemed to have a high reputation – at least to Rule. Clarence decided to be serious just in case. He didn’t want to look ridiculous in front of the others.

Rule and the black-and-white bird landed on the ground about five feet in front of the group. It seemed very dignified, or maybe it was just placid. Or it could have possibly been both. Clarence didn’t know.

Caerula didn’t appear to know what to say first. Instead of paying attention to the indecisive heron, Clarence took a closer look at the bird. Its plumage was smooth and well-cared for. He imagined that it must be hard to keep feathers like that in such perfect condition all of the time. It could have been genetic, or…

Clarence didn’t bother to finish his thought. He knew that if he dug too deep into it, he would stay there for a while, and might insult the new black-and-white bird.

Rule raised his wings in an imposing gesture, and any murmuring that might have taken place halted. Now all attention was fixated on the heron.

“Thank you for being silent,” said Rule. “Since you’re probably wondering what this is about, the swallow-tailed kite here made an unexpected rendezvous with us, apparently without instruction from anyone back at the Nightstar Fortress.”

Clarence blinked, even though nobody had replied to the heron. Nightstar Fortress was probably the destination, but how the bird was called a swallow-tailed kite made sense. No wonder it looked so much like a swallow.

The kite ducked its head, as if it was humbled by Caerulea’s statement.

“Someone told me you were… recruiting three birds, and I came here. The shortest way to the Fortress is through the Uncharteds, after all.”

Clarence was baffled by the kite’s voice. He would expect a two-foot bird to sound more high-pitched and small, but this kite’s voice was fairly deep. The tone was masked by its quietness, though. It reminded Clarence of a steady rockfall down a mountainside. And due to the octave, the kite was definitely male.

“You’ll probably hear a lot of him at the Fortress, so be sure you know his name. This is Keith, sometimes called the Silver Moonlight Swordsman after his battle tactics.”

Keith fluffed awkwardly and said nothing.

Clarence was perplexed. Birds used swords? He had never seen a bird with a sword before, much less a bird of this size with a sword. Maybe weapons were a discreet thing with birds.

“I only came here so I might guide you across the Uncharted Lands,” Keith told them modestly. “You don’t need to flatter me.”

“But you are indeed helping us!” insisted Rule. “How insightful! Wonderful!”
Keith made a strange moaning noise. Clarence couldn’t help feeling a little bit nervous about Rule’s unmatched enthusiasm pitted against Keith’s deep, limitless calm.

Keith stepped forward in front of Rule, as if to block him from the conversation. Had Keith been twice his current height, he would have shadowed the heron out of view, but the kite was two-thirds the size or Caerulea. Up until this size comparison, Clarence had thought that Keith was far larger. It didn’t seem like it, but maybe his hushed, unwavering voice unconsciously demanded authority.

“I can take you across from here,” Keith said, and then tipped his head back towards Rule. “Caerulea, you can head back to the Fortress with Corvus. I’ll take it from here.”

Rule didn’t seem bothered by this idea, but in contrast Corvus jumped forwards and squawked defiantly at Keith (who, as it appeared would be a frequent happening, said nothing). The kite didn’t look perturbed at all.
Caerulea seemed horrified, although he recovered from his shock soon. “Corvus looks like she wants to stay with them,” he said anxiously, shifting his feet around on the rose-colored rock.

“That’s fine,” Keith replied, and Rule seemed to relax. (The kite paid no attention to this.) “You go ahead.”

“Thank you,” the heron said hastily, and flew off as if he really wanted to get out of the Uncharteds.

As Rule fled the scene, Keith ran his beak through his white breast feathers for a split second, as if to dismiss the thought of Rule’s jumpiness.

“Don’t be afraid, really,” he told the group, although he sounded unconfident that he could convince them.

Clarence was unconfident as well. Keith probably didn’t mean to seem scary, but somehow his visage and shape seemed intimidating, regardless of his size. Clarence didn’t blame him for this – he was probably just another bird of prey. The black eagle barely noticed his collarbone, which protruded more than the average bird’s.

“I’ll take it from here,” said Keith. Without asking whether they wanted to follow him, he lifted off into the air. Doubtless he thought that these birds disliked landing in the Uncharted Lands, and he was right.

Clarence rose into a current a few seconds after Keith. Corvus lingered about eight feet away. She seemed to want to stay close to him, but at the same time she wanted to have her own space. She was confusing with her way of not talking, but Clarence didn’t mind. Sometimes the lack of words was even more powerful than a huge quality or quantity of words anyone could think of.

Something about Keith wasn’t quite right, but Clarence didn’t know what it was. It was as if he was withdrawn, maybe depressed. Or maybe he just had a quiet nature. Something might have gone wrong at some point in the past, but Clarence had no way of knowing what it might have been, if anything had happened at all. And the kite didn’t seem inclined to tell anybody.

Clarence watched Keith fly. He looked like he was just enjoying the scenery and the sensation of flight. Indeed his style was a lot like Ava’s, but more reminiscent to that of a hawk’s. He hadn’t heard of a kite before, but maybe a kite was like a miniature eagle. That’s what it seemed like, anyway. They were too majestic to be tiny birds, but too small to be hawks. It was strange to Clarence, to be unable to classify something and to have to place it in a category of which he’d never even heard. Wasn’t a kite supposed to be a human thing that flew like a bird? Huh. That was odd.

Clarence let himself draw closer to Corvus. Contrary to the kite’s request to not be afraid, Corvus seemed uneasy around Keith. Maybe it was because of the whole swordsman reputation; Clarence couldn’t imagine a black-and-white bird with a four-and-a-half-foot wingspan wielding a sword. Maybe he was still biased towards humans. If he was going to live a bird’s life, though, he’d have to switch his bias.

“You all right, Corvus?” he asked her softly. Her reply was little more than a nod. Unfortunately the mute woodpecker relied on questions, since she couldn’t tell Clarence directly when she was scared.

“He won’t hurt us,” the black eagle told her, although he slightly doubted it himself. Keith, although peaceful, seemed like a dangerous foe to face in physical battle. A conflict of words might be a different story, though. Clarence could easily imagine the kite being hesitant in an argument.

Corvus seemed convinced, although she made no movement to express it. She flapped her wings once and rocked on the pathway for a minute, as if enjoying the feeling of wind rushing underneath her feathers. Who wouldn’t? To Clarence, flight was a gift. Now that he thought about it, he pitied the humans for not being able to fly. He might even go as far as to say they had a stunted, twisted evolution. Much like any trees that might grow here in this lifeless desert.

Clarence pumped his wings to traverse the space between moving air. Hopefully they would be out of the Uncharted Lands soon. And somehow, he hoped they would be away from Keith.

The sun sank low in the sky behind him. He knew that birds almost never flew by dusk, unless they were owls. Day birds like him definitely always landed before the darkness came. He wanted to catch up with Keith and remind him of the time, but somehow he was unsure about doing so. No use being timid, though.

Clarence chose the faster air currents until he closed the distance between him and Keith. He still lingered behind as not to get into the kite’s way.

“Night is falling. Do you think we should land soon?”

“Yes,” Keith replied curtly. He pumped his wings as if to gain altitude, and then let himself drop. It was an acrobatic sight to see, although Clarence didn’t really know what to think of it. Instead of arguing, Clarence dipped himself down, but didn’t include the dive-like maneuver. He kept his descent slow and circling, like a vulture. Soon he reached the ground, and reluctantly gripped the grit and rock with his talons. He already had to land here again, and barely any time had passed… at least it was better than dying. As far as he knew there was nothing alive here that would be able to kill him. That was good.

He tucked his beak into his shoulder feathers as the others touched back down to terrestrial ground. He kept one orange-chocolate eye out to make sure that everyone landed, and fortunately nobody had been left behind. Keith seemed anxious to get off the ground for some reason. Then again, it was probably the same reason for which Clarence’s family wanted to stay in the air: the ground below was thick with heat and dryness, and it could sap a bird’s energy like a shark could devour minnows in a matter of seconds.

Clarence tried to convince himself to sleep. He would need energy for more flight tomorrow. He couldn’t help but wonder, though – was the edge of the Uncharted Lands close? Hopefully it was; Clarence didn’t know whether he could stand another instance of sleeping on bare, exposed rock. There was nothing alive that wanted to eat him around here, but still, a bird’s instincts told it to sleep as high as possible instead of on the ground in a doubtful environment.

Just as he thought he might finally fall into a comforting sleep, he noticed a flash of white moving. He jerked his head up from his black feathers, and sure enough, it was Keith. But what Clarence hadn’t expected was that Keith was flying just as the sun was sinking behind the horizon and darkness was approaching. What bird of prey in the right mind would fly at night? Even less with white plumage on the bottom that would entirely reveal his position to predators below? Maybe Keith wasn’t in the right mind. Then again, there were no predators here, unless for some reason there was such thing as a four-foot owl, or at least one big enough to consume a kite. Even so, why would Keith want to fly at night instead of sleep? Didn’t he need rest?

Clarence was tempted to follow him, but he didn’t want to seem dangerous to his temporary mentor. Besides, his black feathers would smudge him into invisibility against the night sky, and so Keith wouldn’t be able to see him coming. Startling was almost never a good thing, unless the subject wanted to be startled.

Against his urge, Clarence clenched his talons tighter. In the morning he would find a way to keep himself from sounding nosy, and ask Keith why in the world he would want to fly in the freezing night air where any bird could see him from far away if they were lucky.

The fading light, combined with Clarence’s dark plumage, drowsed him into slumber due to lack of visibility.
__________________

Why would anyone want to turn back time? There’s no meaning in regret. No point in thinking about things I could have done. Because there’s no guarantee that any decision is the right one.
-Ryunosuke, Wild Adapter 6


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Old 11-10-2010, 04:03 AM
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Mad MOAI Mad MOAI is offline
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Default Re: mM's NaNoWriMo - Clarence's Jacket (title subject to change)

-Chapter Seven: Into Nightstar Fortress

Quicker than Clarence had thought, the night dissolved into morning, and the first rays of light from the sun woke him up. Keith was still present on the scene, his beak buried in his silver back feathers. He looked peaceful when he was asleep, but Clarence had the feeling that if he woke up by force then he would lash out with a curmudgeon attack.

Clarence straightened himself and began to preen, starting from his wing coverts. These always seemed like the thickest feathers, and automatically the hardest to separate from sand that got into them during the blown-up clouds of landing. Hopefully he would have adequate time to clean himself before the others wanted to leave or maybe even before they woke up.

After he finished his left wing coverts he, of course, switched to the right wing. This one seemed far messier than his left for some reason. Maybe his siblings were flying on his right side and kicking up sand into his feathers. It wasn’t necessarily true, but it was just an idea. It wasn’t their fault.

Clarence heard a ruffling noise somewhere to his left. He lifted his head and noticed that Ava was awake and preening as well. Maybe she was seizing the moment to do so, like him.

He ignored it and kept grooming. If he stayed silent, he would have more time to get his feathers sorted out, and thus a more satisfying flying session.
The blackness of his feathers dimmed his vision and almost sent him to sleep again. He refused to be pulled into rest again, and kept preening.

As he turned his head to work on his belly feathers, he noticed that white stripe pattern on his back again. As always, it looked exactly as it had when he was a human and he always wore the jacket with the same emblem on it. Right now that memory connected him to his human life, and when he was so focused on going to the blue down below rather than the blue up above. He had to admit that being a bird was definitely fun, and that it would be far more chaotic if he had been turned into a fish instead.

But as he ran his beak through the feathers near his legs, he wondered why he had been turned into a bird in the first place. It couldn’t just be some random event, could it? If it wasn’t random, though, what was it? This was all so perplexing. Maybe he could figure it out later, when his brain wasn’t so fuddled from sleep.

Slowly his head rotated itself along his side. By the time he was ready for his back, everyone was awake. And they were probably itching to go, too (literally), due to the unenviable conditions of the ground. Clarence forced himself to raise his beak and focus on the sky. No clouds were in the vicinity, and those that were in sight were probably over distant lands that were more fertile and ready to receive water.

Clarence glanced at Keith. Now that he had a chance to think, he recalled that Keith had been flying during dark hours last night, which was not typical for a bird of prey. Wasn’t he going to ask him about that? But how would he sound curious and not pushy? He really didn’t want to make Keith angry and witness what wrath he really possessed.

As Keith let out a quiet, almost restrained screech to tell the group that he was leaving, Clarence jerked his head towards the kite. He hadn’t heard him screech before, and it almost sounded more like singing, which was unusual. Keith was just full of surprises. Not all of them might be good surprises, though.

Clarence jumped into the air and pumped his wings until he found a suitable area in which to fly. He traversed a few pathways until he found one he wanted, and then checked back for the others. Keith was flying fast and catching up, while the rest of the group was just behind him.

Clarence thought about keeping his eye on Keith, but that might appear too suspicious. Instead, he watched the kite from the corner of his eye as the black-and-white bird gained distance. He didn’t appear to suspect anything of Clarence’s discreet focus, and passed to point without questioning him.

The eagle hung back after that, and drifted for about four seconds. He was beginning to focus on forward movement again when Corvus came into his peripheral vision. She moved more into his clear sight. Then she glanced at him and squeaked in a questioning tone. He wasn’t sure what it meant, but he guessed that it was either ‘You saw him too?’ or ‘Is something wrong?’

“It’s nothing,” he told her, and he had a fifty-fifty chance of answering the right question.

She was silent after that – she made no more conversational chirps. Rather she looked at the clear cyan sky for a minute, and then kept flying.

He pumped his wings a few times to gain height, and then hovered just above the level of the rest of the group. At first he pondered about how he was supposed to watch for predators here in a place where there were no predators. But as he flew at this slightly higher elevation, he noticed a vague smudge of color on the horizon. It looked like blue, but it might also have been green. Either way, it meant life; blue would represent a body of water, while green signaled trees or grass.

“We’re almost there!” he called to no one in particular. “Just a little more while of flying and we’ll be out of this wind-forsaken desert. There’s life on the horizon.”

Keith flapped his wings impartially in his tortuous flight, and then augmented to Clarence’s report.

“What’s on the horizon is the Darkened Meadow. It’s about five miles from here, but once we get there we still have a bit of flying to go before we reach Nightstar Fortress.”

“Darkened Meadow?” Rhys asked from somewhere behind Clarence. “Why is it called that?”

“Because it’s near Nightstar Fortress,” Keith replied mystically. “in the same way that darkness is near the night.”

Clarence frowned at this. He thought it ironic that Keith should be saying something like that. To him, the so-called swordsman was aloof and dark in terms of personality. Was he near to the night? Would he eventually betray them for the benefit of an unknown enemy?

This brought Clarence back to the dusk before this morning. Had he been seeing things (a desert mirage, perhaps), or had Keith really flown off into the night? Regular birds didn’t do that. Then again, Keith probably wasn’t a ‘regular’ bird. How else would he obtain a flashy title like “Silver Moonlight Swordsman?”

A sudden gust over Clarence’s face tugged him out of his skeptical reveries. Keith was sliding onto a different air current, leaving the one he had abandoned to blast into Clarence’s face. He decided not to complain, though. He didn’t want to ruin the few miles of happiness or hope the group might still retain.

--

“We’re here,” Keith said softly, as always.

Clarence’s wings were getting sore again. Hopefully they would be able to rest soon.

He glanced down at the landscape. The smooth grasses of the Darkened Meadow were beneath him, he guessed by about a thousand feet. (He still wasn’t accustomed to flying very high yet, and Keith appeared to know that.) Other than being close to the Nightstar Fortress, there was no reason to call it darkened. It looked like a joyful enough place, with green and golden grass accompanied by many shrubs in few trees, all blowing in the wind. Clarence’s eagle eyes could even spot movement down there, most likely caused by a small rodent or other animal. Perhaps he could hunt here someone, if the bird in charge of the fortress let him stray.

“Does this territory belong to the Fortress?” Rhys inquired curiously.

“Only a small amount,” Keith answered without looking back. “The portion that counts as part of the Nightstar Fortress goes until half a mile or so beyond the main gate, past the Trenches.”

“Gate? Trenches?” Clarence questioned absently. “Couldn’t birds just fly over gates and trenches?”

“Birds can,” Keith pointed out. “Nothing else can. Bats are out of the question here.”

Clarence didn’t reply. What could the fortress possibly hope to keep out? He didn’t know for sure whether there were other birds living in the Fortress, but evidence from past conversations with the other group members supported the inference. So if there were birds, then what was the gate for?

Clarence dismissed the thought for later examination. He probably shouldn’t worry about what could get in – after all, he couldn’t think of many animals who would want to eat or kill an eagle for any reason.

The verdure blurred past. It seemed like they would be at the Fortress in no time, but Clarence estimated that they would be flying for at least another half-hour. This thought agitated his wing aches again.

Then a shadowed shape loomed in the distance. Clarence’s first thought was that this was the fortress, and his first thought was correct.

The silhouette began to take form. There were definitely trees or turrets of some sort, but it didn’t look much like a castle. It was more like a clump of trees with the cliff on the far right (southwestern, Clarence told himself) side. So why was it called a fortress?

Clarence took a look at the land beneath him. As he did, he noticed that about half a mile ahead was a series of walls made of stone. There were holes at ground level in each wall that were approximately six feet in diameter, but they didn’t form a straight line; instead, they were scattered at apparently random locations in the slate-colored walls. Clarence’s only guess on the layout was that it was to confuse intruders, slow them down, or both.

The walls were about forty feet apart, four feet thick, and twenty feet tall. The surfaces appeared to be flawlessly smooth, probably to keep out climbing perpetrators.

Gradually the shape of the Fortress itself grew clearer, and Clarence could make out more and more separations as he approached it. Now that he was this close, the Fortress looked far vaster than when he had first glimpsed it. He predicted that the cliff was provided for the occupants who preferred to nest on rocky ground. Clarence would not be one of them, especially after the series of landings in the Uncharteds. Maybe seabirds nested on those rocks. Or possibly vultures or condors. Were there any vultures or condors? It was hard to tell just from thinking about it.

Clarence continuously drew closer. It seemed like the Nightstar Fortress was getting bigger and bigger, although it really wasn’t. How large was it anyway? Five square miles? Ten square miles? Maybe even more?

He thought it had been half an hour, but it seemed like less. The sky brightened to a pleasing turquoise during the flight, and soon the group had approached what was apparently the gate to the fortress.

Clarence wasn’t entirely perplexed, though. He understood why this was called the gate; it was a circular opening in the trees, with no obstacles below. It was a hole in the branches big enough for two birds to pass through at the same time, but only that many. Where there wasn’t a hole, there was a thick-looking wall of branches, seemingly arranged to prevent any birds from entering any way other than through the gate.

A branch extended from either side of the gate about seven feet out. The branches were level with the upper edge of the gate, which was about twelve feet high. A bird perched on either branch; the one on the right branch appeared to be some sort of small shorebird with bright yellow legs, which contrasted the bird on the left branch.

The left sentry was definitely some sort of vulture. It had a long neck and a hooked beak, with a head that was bald save for a light dusting of silvery-white feathers. It had soulful black eyes that were penetrating at the same time. There was a white ruff around the base of its neck, allowing a transition to the buff-colored feathers covering its stout body and huge wings. The talons that gripped the branch beneath it were a light grey color, and curved sharply. They looked like they could tear through anything, and Clarence shuddered, allowing room for faltering in midair. The opportunity was soon taken, but he recovered quickly, and kept flying like nothing had happened.

The vulture eyed them relentlessly as they drew closer to the gate. Keith was keeping his sight on the vulture, as if it would attack the group without warning as soon as they entered the fortress.

“Please land and state your purpose,” called the seabird from the post.

Almost routinely, Keith did so, in his diving, falcon-like fashion. Clarence and the others were considerably slower, although Corvus touched down last for some reason. Maybe she was making sure the others were safe.

“Keith the Silver Moonlight Swordsman,” the seabird squawked.

As Clarence shook his feathers, Keith raised his head and replied to the black-crowned seabird.

“I believe Scouter Caerulea should have passed through here not long ago. I return after his place, bringing the three retrieved birds Melinda wanted.”

Clarence’s heart shook, although he wasn’t sure why. Somehow the mention of the name Melinda struck a dart of fear into his body. But he didn’t know anybody named Melinda!

The seabird twisted his head seemingly at every angle possible before crying back, “You have permission to enter with your entourage.” He paused, and then added, “Corvus.”

The woodpecker chirped loudly in response, as if doing so would allow her to follow the rest of the group.

The shorebird nodded, but the vulture narrowed its eyes, as if to consider the safety of allowing the birds in.

Clarence looked up. The bottom rim of the gate was around seven feet in the air. It would definitely stall any enemies who would somehow manage to come this far past the stone walls.

“Everyone please cross the gate hastily,” commanded the seabird, with an encouraging flap of his wings.

Keith glanced back at the group as if to assure them, and lifted off gently towards the gate. The vulture kept its attention on him for a short while, and then squinted its strange glare at the rest of the birds.

“What are you waiting for?” it questioned, in a very deep, rasping voice that reminded Clarence of a thick, blinding sandstorm. The vulture tapped his right talons on the branch impatiently, and looked as if he was about to eat them.

Clarence fluffed, and as soon as his feathers settled he rode into the air with a powerful beat of his wings. He ascended to the height of the gate and passed through, the boggy silence of the forest swallowing him. He was sure that the vulture was watching him during every second of his entrance.

He wasn’t sure whether anyone followed him in. The inside of the Fortress was dark, and he felt as if he had only flown into a black void rather than a forest. He hesitated in his flight, trying to take in the seemingly limitless surroundings. Various bird noises sounded from unknown places, and he turned towards where he thought the cliff was, but the dark shroud of the leaves above blocked his vision. It was a half-light where one could see for a while ahead, but not very clearly. At least the vision was well enough to avoid bumping into anything.

He turned in a different direction in the darkness, and barely managed to navigate himself so that he could land on a branch that would otherwise have smacked into his head. Fortunately he could see the light of the gate beyond the cloud of blackness, and the shadows of a series of other birds entering.

He swiveled his head to the side, and was comforted but also uneased by Keith’s presence a few feet away on an adjacent branch.
__________________

Why would anyone want to turn back time? There’s no meaning in regret. No point in thinking about things I could have done. Because there’s no guarantee that any decision is the right one.
-Ryunosuke, Wild Adapter 6


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Old 11-11-2010, 04:06 PM
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Default Re: mM's NaNoWriMo - Clarence's Jacket (title subject to change)

-Chapter Eight: Nightmares and Segments

No more birds appeared to be entering the gate. The shadow of small Corvus was the last to come through, and that was about ten seconds ago. Clarence took a deep breath to assure himself that this place was safe, even though dapples of light shredding the forest were few and far between. The thing of which he was most afraid, though, was the practically glowing white presence of Keith so nearby in this darkness.

Somehow the rest of their group found their way over. Rhys was leading Ava to help her through the low visibility, but even he seemed unconfident. Hopefully only the very inside of the gate was like this. Hopefully the forest would grow brighter as the group moved on.

Keith stared at them menacingly from his perch a short distance away. Suddenly something caught his attention, and his head snapped to an invisible object moving through the nothingness. As it neared the gate and perched upside-down on the top rim. It turned its head away from them, towards the branch with the massive vulture upon it.

From its silhouette, the bird looked like some sort of crested woodpecker, although Clarence couldn’t tell for sure.

The bird said something he couldn’t make out in a fairly high-pitched voice, and then darted outside into the contrasting brightness. About fifteen seconds later, a much larger shape entered the Fortress, and began flying toward them. It was the vulture.

Clarence unintentionally let out a loud squeak of fear. This bird had a wingspan far bigger than any other he had ever seen, let alone imagine. The vulture didn’t seem to notice, though. He was irritatingly calm, and looked as if he would pounce on them in a flash.

The vulture extended his talons, and Clarence screamed louder. He cut it short, though, as the huge bird’s feet only closed around a branch slightly higher than theirs. He looked down at them in a classic hunched position that one could easily imagine a vulture taking on. With his penetrating eyes like two holes in his head showing the darkness behind him he scanned the row of birds.

Clarence shuddered. This situation couldn’t possibly get any creepier.

“Sorry if I scare you,” he told them, almost with a sigh. Clarence almost smiled, but the surrealism of this situation kept a fearful scowl on his face.
“I’m Nightmare,” the vulture added, and glanced warily towards Keith. This time the kite was glaring, although his gazed softened just as Clarence had a chance to glimpse it.

“No kidding,” Clarence breathed, tucking in his wings which he hadn’t realized were left open.

“No kidding indeed,” Nightmare agreed. It was almost condescending himself, as if he actually did want to make fun of himself for being fearsome. But as he said this, he reared up and spread his wings to stretch casually. Clarence thought it looked too much like a display of dominance.

Nightmare reached the rounded top half of his beak into the coverts on the bottom of his left wing for a second, and then returned to his familiar vulture posture.

“I’m one of the sentries here at Nightstar Fortress. I’m not actually that good at it,” he admitted. “I’m pretty sure they only chose me for my apparently intimidating appearance. I don’t like being assertive to random birds who happen to enter, especially if they’re my friends. I’d rather be left alone to eat.”

Clarence’s scowl faded, and instead he now had a straight face. A vulture who didn’t like being mean? That sounded rather suspicious to him. But even though his voice was deeper than an ocean and rougher than sandstone, Nightmare sounded honest.

“Uh,” Clarence answered absently. He really didn’t know what to say to nightmare. Then an idea came to his head as his stomach sent a message. “Speaking of eating, when do we? I’m starved!” He shifted his feet on the branch, and hopefully it didn’t bob too much for his siblings’ liking.

To his left, Keith lowered his head. His dark eyes seemed to glint a different color, and he looked dissatisfied somehow. Just as Clarence thought that Keith was going to lunge at him, the kite dipped his head further and began preening his feathers instead.

Nightmare was left the position to answer. “You haven’t been officially registered yet, but I can take you to Lady Melina’s advisor if you want.”

There was the mention of Melina again. There was the twinge in Clarence’s chest again. How were those two related?

“That would be nice,” Clarence said hesitantly. “Just don’t eat me.”

Nightmare seemed like he was going to laugh at Clarence, but instead the sound that escaped his beak was more like some sort of high-pitched rumble.

“I’m a vulture,” he said plainly. “I scavenge, not hunt. That is, I eat animals that are already dead. I can’t kill them myself. I’m just not built for it.”

“Oh,” Clarence replied dumbly, and he did indeed feel dumb.

“Anyway, to the Copse, and then I’ll show you the Hunting Grounds. Follow me.”

As Clarence moved into the air and away from gravity, he remembered his sore wings. And then, of course, the soreness migrated back into his shoulders. He didn’t want to whine to Nightmare, though, because he never knew when the vulture’s name might reflect his intentions. It really would be a nightmare if he was attacked by such a large, sharp-clawed bird.

Even though his bulk might be a disadvantage, Nightmare navigated easily through the trees, looking effortless. Almost all of his flight was soaring, with wingbeats being only occasional.

Clarence wondered briefly if he looked as expert as Nightmare at flying. Probably not, he told himself. Nightmare had most likely never been a human in the first place, because he had a more abstract name. Maybe that meant he could offer some flying tips?

No, that probably wasn’t a decent idea. They were similar, but the flying styles of vultures and eagles were different for the most part. Nightmare’s manner was probably more focused on keeping his bulky body in the air with his broad wings, while Clarence thought that his style would be more of a careful flight to watch for something to eat and to give his sharp eyes a chance to examine things. He didn’t have to worry about supporting such a large physical form.

As Nightmare swerved around the trunk of a blue-needled pine tree, Clarence tried to move in a similar fashion. Sure enough, there was a strong current at the bottom edge of the curve, cushioning him in is turn. Clarence raised his left wing to ride it, and he sank into a banked turn around the pine. The only thing that kept him aware of Nightmare’s presence was the arrangement of short buff tail feathers fluttering smoothly ahead of him.

Then the turn eased out, and Nightmare was clearly visible in a straight trajectory. What confused Clarence, though, was that he was descending into an abandoned-looking section of the forest. It was like a miniature version of the gate, but it wasn’t at all conspicuous. Just as Clarence was sure that Nightmare was going to crash into the branches and ruin the arch with his wide wings, he tucked them in like a jay and hurtled through the opening as if he was a cannonball. Clarence slowed himself down and hesitated; he wasn’t sure that he could imitate the unfamiliar maneuver.

No other choice, he told himself. He flapped his wings to gain speed again and let himself fall towards the miniature gate. Here it comes.

Moments before he thought he might break through the tunnel, he pulled in his wings as fast as he could. His frontmost primary feathers brushed the border and bristled; he would have to preen them later when his shoulders didn’t hurt so much.

He was falling.

And then the tunnel widened, and he launched his wings out, maybe too fast. His aching shoulders stretched, and he shivered. He tottered a little bit on the current, but then steadied himself.

Reflexively, he gripped the ground as it passed beneath him. Nightmare stood in his path, and Clarence barely avoided ramming into the vulture’s hunched back. Nightmare uncomfortably stepped aside, and bowed his head apologetically.

“Sorry about that,” he said quietly. “I shouldn’t stop in the middle of the path.” He paused, and eyed the entrance through which he had flown. “And you shouldn’t, either. Your brother will be coming through soon.” He raised his right wing so that he could usher Clarence aside, but the eagle inched away as soon as the wing opened. It looked destructive, and he didn’t want to touch it. That wing was four feet long just by itself!

Nightmare seemed satisfied (as well as a little insulted), and tucked his wing into his heavily feathered side. About three seconds later, a white shape shot through the opening, and Rhys soon landed on the forest floor with a ruffle of his feathers.

Clarence examined the ground beneath Rhys’s feet. He had just noticed that it was lighter than the ground back at the entrance to the Fortress. More light, was it? He inclined his head and gazed up at the treetops. Sure enough, the foliage wasn’t as dense as it was on the other side of the mini-gate. More light was necessary for an apparently important place, he guessed.

In an instant Ava dived through the entrance and settled herself on the ground next to Clarence. Her small blue form was like a blotch of light against the earthly shades of the woods.

“So which way now?” Clarence asked Nightmare.

“Just follow me,” the vulture replied. He hefted himself into the air and continued in the direction through which he had entered.

As Clarence followed him into the air, he let out another question. “What sort of vulture are you, anyway?”

“A griffon vulture. It’s not spelled like you’d think, though.”

Clarence nodded inwardly. He glanced over his shoulder to check if his siblings were following. Sure enough, the blue and white birds were trailing them contentedly.

“So who are we seeing?” questioned Clarence. “You apparently know quite a bit about this place.”

“You’ll most likely be seeing one of Lady Melinda’s advisors. Just about all of them are parrots of more types than you can probably imagine. Very few birds ever see Lady Melinda in person.”

“Who is Lady Melinda, anyway? I’ve heard that name around a lot now.”

“Nobody really knows. She runs the place, this Fortress. Only birds with a very high or painfully low reputation usually get to see her, other than her advisors.”

Clarence pumped his wings. The air path beneath him weakened, and he switched to a fesher one. He couldn’t think of any more questions to ask. Other than the frequent wingbeats from his siblings and the occasional, powerful pumps from Nightmare, the rest of the flight was silent.

Which didn’t really matter, since it wasn’t too long to begin with.

Soon Nightmare raised his left primary feathers as a signal to land. He had positioned himself so that the change in direction from the signal allowed him to land gently on a thick branch that could support his weight.

Clarence lowered himself back to the ground and looked up at Nightmare. The vulture didn’t speak, but he raised his wing towards something behind Clarence.

The black eagle turned around and was surprised about what his eyes showed him.

There was a tree that looked fairly normal, save for the erratic curve in its trunk that formed a semicircle over a window of darkness about six feet tall. Many branches sprouted from the trunk of the tree, and upon the branches was a bit group of birds which seemed to come in every possible color other than dull, unattractive greys and browns. Red birds, blue birds, yellow, green and more.

Clarence didn’t know what to say, but apparently one of the birds did. A red macaw with blue and green flight feathers straightened itself up and held out its wings. Immediately the chattering of the other parrots ceased into total silence.

“Got some new Demoned-birds,” the macaw called professionally, and lowered her wings. She had some sort of accent in her voice, although Clarence couldn’t pinpoint it.

“What’s a Demoned-bird?” Clarence blurted out.

“That’s you,” she said instantly, shoving her wing in his direction, “and us, and everyone.” Then she seemed to calm down and address the other parrots instead.

“Seraneth, the African Black Eagle,” said the macaw.

Clarence was perplexed, but his confusion answered as a bird left its branch and alighted down in front of him. Its huge beak marked it as a toucan. Its plumage was mostly black, but there was a bare crimson patch around its eye. The back of its neck was collared with a fruity orange color, and on its back was a patch of bright red. On its front, there was a brilliant spatter of vibrant yellow, orange and scarlet, as if a scene of wildfire or a sunset had been painted onto its plumage.

“Seraneth?” Clarence asked.

“Collared Aracari,” barked the toucan.

“All right, so what will you do?”

“I’m one of Melinda’s advisors,” Seraneth told him nonchalantly. “I’m checking you in to make sure you’re not a hitchhiker. Or a pedestrian, or a freeloader. Whichever you prefer.” She winked, but didn’t smile.

Clarence gaped. “Huh?”

“You’ll figure it out later,” she assured him emptily. “Your name, how many days ago the change was, and your species. Fill in the blanks.”

“Um… Clarence, a day and a half, African black eagle.” He beat his wings subtly but impatiently.

Seraneth opened her beak and shouted up to the macaw. “Clarence, male African black eagle. Thirty-nine hours.”

Then she turned her head back to Clarence. “That should be good. Now follow me. I’ll show you to a suitable segment.” She flapped her wings rapidly to transition into flight, and Clarence took off after her.

He passed through the miniature gate after the shadowy figure of Seraneth. She seemed to be heading towards the cliff that Clarence had seen from outside the Fortress. Clarence couldn’t tell visually, though; the shroud of black from the trees above was present on this side of the mini-gate.

Light slowly returned to him, and he could definitely see a looming shape through a group of trees. Seraneth’s form was barely visible in the darkness, and he only kept up to her by the fiery colors on her back.

The amount of sight only increased constantly, though. Soon he could clearly see, and he almost rammed into the cliff wall as the trees parted seemingly of their own will. He halted hastily in midair, and then spun around, searching for Seraneth. She was flying up the tree from branch to branch, as if testing each one for some sort of rare quality.

He watched her as she circled, and then finally, she stilled on one of the upper branches of a savannah-looking tree. He couldn’t help but feel a twinge of satisfaction.

“This will be your segment,” she called from behind a cover of rough, deep green leaves. Then she made some sort of jerking movement, and there was a loud knocking noise. Clarence guessed that she had pecked the branch.

“Segment,” he echoed to himself, and began ascending. Finally he would be able to rest his tired wings. As far as he could remember, he had flown for the entire day, and he hadn’t touched down for very long since dawn.

He let himself rise and dodged through the leaves, at last coming down on the branch next to Seraneth. He turned his head to look at his so-called “segment.” It was higher up than he was used to; that not only gave him slight discomfort, but a fairly unobstructed view of this level of Nightstar Fortress. From here, it looked like the biggest forest he had ever seen, and this view probably made it look smaller because it was more horizontal than anything.

“Thanks, Seraneth,” he told her as she used her large beak to pull down a wall of twigs and form an adequate living space (minus flight) for Clarence. He was surrounded by a curtain of green dotted with tiny holes.

“Tell one of us if you need any help,” she said. “Or you can notify one of the birds next to you. Just make sure they know you’re coming in. Oh, and the Hunting Woods are about half a mile east from here.”

“All right,” Clarence called after her as she dove under the wall and disappeared somewhere. She was probably going back to that official-looking room.

Eventually Clarence would have to find out where his brother and sister lived. Or rather, as the birds here said it, where their segments were. Rhys probably was housed somewhere near or on the cliff, since as far as Clarence knew a seagull’s feet weren’t fit to grasping branches as much as walking down the beach. Clarence didn’t know where Ava would be, but maybe she could find him sometime.

He turned his head to the left. He was right next to the curving, somewhat warped-looking trunk of the tree, and the dry, desert-ish feeling of it seemed to fit into his lifestyle. Maybe it was because it was similar to an African tree that his species might live in outside of the Fortress.

He set his thoughts in a different direction. How big was Nightstar Fortress, anyway? He had flown around it a little bit already, and even from here it never seemed to end. He didn’t know why it was called a fortress, really – it seemed more like a mass sanctuary for birds.

Mass sanctuary? There had to be a catch in there somewhere. Oh, well.

Clarence bowed his head and began preening his back feathers. They were still black, but a few were still gray with grit from the Uncharted Lands. He hoped that it wouldn’t take too long to clean himself out.

As he finally got a chance to rest his shoulders, he glanced out of his peripheral vision towards the cliff. It seemed empty enough, but it still loomed for a while up. This meant that the birds who lived on the cliff probably would feel even safer than him. From his experiences, a bird felt safer when he was at a higher elevation, but Clarence still didn’t know why. Just another mystery he would have to solve later, when he had a deeper understanding of this avian world totally unaccessed by humans. He still had human experience, but he couldn’t make up his mind on whether that would help him or hinder him here.

As he sorted through his feathers, the sun continued on its arch. Maybe he could explore here sometime. Maybe when he was done preening he could get something to eat.

He quickly transitioned to his tail feathers, which gave his spine a nice stretch. He hadn’t really preened this in-depth before … not that he had gotten a chance to. It was only a day and a half since he had been turned into a bird, and most of that time had been spent flying or eating, which left less time for grooming.

Speaking of eating, he hadn’t done so since yesterday, had he? Clarence wondered how long his species could go without food. It probably wouldn’t be much longer before his immune system weakened a bit, though, so he should finish preening soon and then find a satisfactory meal in the Hunting Woods. There probably were fewer hyraxes in the designated Hunting Woods than there were wherever they naturally lived, but Clarence was just about totally sure that African blacks didn’t survive on hyraxes alone. If that was true, then prey would get scarce pretty fast in the wild.

Clarence quickly finished some basic preening that he guessed would improve his flight performance, and then shuffled to the side. He soon found an opening in the crisp leaves, but it was lower than he was. He wondered how he was going to solve this maneuver.

He thought back to the miniature gate that led to the room with all the parrots. Maybe this situation was similar to that, but it was from a standstill, perching position. That probably complicated things a bit. Then again, this would be an adventurous few seconds, so long as he didn’t bang his head on another branch, get knocked unconscious, and die from broken bones and such received from the rest of the fall.

Clarence shuddered. Perhaps he shouldn’t think so pessimistically. That was probably not going to happen. Although there was a chance…

Forget it. He would just go now.

Clarence crouched down as if he was going to jump and fly, but he already knew that he was going to fall before anything else. Then again, this was probably similar to flying normally – he just had to catch himself before he fell too far. Except when he was on the ground, he didn’t have as far to fall, which was both an advantage and a disadvantage. Being up here gave him more time to catch himself, but caused more injuries if he couldn’t figure out how to rise fast enough.

Clarence inhaled deeply, overbalanced forward, and dropped.
__________________

Why would anyone want to turn back time? There’s no meaning in regret. No point in thinking about things I could have done. Because there’s no guarantee that any decision is the right one.
-Ryunosuke, Wild Adapter 6


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Old 11-14-2010, 03:58 AM
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Default Re: mM's NaNoWriMo - Clarence's Jacket (title subject to change)

I read your prologue and chapter one. Here's a fresh batch of criticism for you:

You have a problem with your writing, which is essentially that there's this awkward, forced tone that takes over the entire story. It's doesn't make your story unreadable, or even hard to understand, but when you compare your prose to that of say, a published novel, you will be able to immediately be able to see the difference in tone and sentence structure between the two. Every writer's goal, I would imagine, even if said writer doesn't plan on making a career out of writing, is to get their prose to the point where it's on the level of a professional. Clearly we have some work to do!

Awkwardness isn't really an abnormal problem to have, especially not for a thirteen year old. Believe me, I'm struggling with the same issues, and I'm three years older than you. To me, avoiding awkwardness is definitely one of the hardest parts of writing, if not THE hardest.

So here's a random snippet of text
Quote:
“How was it?” Rhys asked his brother with an almost intentionally annoying tone. Had the last class not been his favorite and left him in a good mood, Clarence might have stomped on his brother’s adjacent foot.

“I’m pretty sure we have some sort of test tomorrow,” Clarence answered flatly, focused on his sinister black shoes. “Friday.”

“Sounds good to me,” said Rhys absently. “You like biology.”

Clarence scowled at his shoes and a moment later barely avoided smacking his head into a wall.
It's a very hard-to-define issue. Maybe an english teacher could point out exactly where the flaws are, but I can't quite do it. I can try though - "with an almost intentionally annoying tone" is a weird phrase that just doesn't occur naturally. Almost intentionally annoying? So sort of intentionally? I understand what you're trying to say, but it doesn't quite flow.

"Focused on his sinister black shoes." Why did you need to point out that his shoes are sinister and black? I understand that you're trying to add detail, trying to let us get a good image Clarence's wardrobe, but using a lovely word like "sinister" here directs the reader's attention to something that really does not matter at all. This should not be emphasized as much as it is, and, once again, creates awkwardness. In real life, someone wouldn't stop to point out that the shoes they happened to be looking at were sinister and black.

"said Rhys absently". The word absently seems a little bizarrely placed. I can't really figure out why or how he is saying that absently - he seems to be pretty engaged in the conversation! Perhaps you have a mental image of the conversation in his head that can only be conveyed using the word "absently", but it doesn't work - the reader needs to know more. Perhaps you could say "absently, as he twirled a finger around his hair" or "absently, as he fumbled around in his pocket for his phone", or something similar.

This is just an example from an arbitrarily selection of text. I'm just trying to show you that I'm not just making this up!

Here is another problem that I think is very related: your story is just somewhat boring.

The prologue (and by the way, the term prologue is kind of misused here, usually the prologue is very distinct from the main story via featuring a different time/place/set of characters) is just a day in the life of a high school student. Interesting things do not happen! You try to spice it up by saying things like

Quote:
The steps to the front door approached swiftly. Clarence swung his smoky gray backpack off of his shoulders and nimbly unzipped the smallest front pocket, pulling out a small silver key with a forest green cover on the round end. Secretively, as if the always-watching Rhys might actually be a thief who was memorizing what his brother did so that he could later break into the house, Clarence shadowed his hand with his head and inserted the key into the constantly impatient doorknob. The knob gladly accepted the key into its jagged maw and let it twist, revealing the passage into the unlit house. Clarence stepped in, letting the more comforting, darker environment swallow him and his brother.
Well why couldn't you have just said "Clarence walked up to the door and unlocked it"? You would have saved both of us time! I'll tell you why: because interesting things are not happening. You are trying to write something interesting about something mundane, and I think this is a large part of where your awkwardness comes from.

There really is not any excuse for boring writing - the purpose of fiction is to entertain, and it's not as if you're doing yourself a favor either. I suppose your defense might be "you need to get through the boring parts first, the good stuff comes later", but in any novel there should not be any boring parts. You could have completely eliminated this chapter.

Chapter one, is, of course, more interesting, and as such some of the awkwardness issues are resolved. But they definitely don't go away entirely.

However, some new issues are raised. Clarence's reaction to his predicament: "this is definitely a dream"... I don't think it's personally very realistic. An actual person, I think, would be panicking, thinking "this has to be a dream, but yet I know I am awake," not just resigning themselves to "oh, I'll wake up soon". Moreover, it's a real cliche - and cliches are boring.

This ties into a larger issue, which is that Clarence is just not a very interesting character. He approaches his situation very robotically, no interesting internal monologue, no spark, no exuberant personality, hard to relate to. This, of course, just serves to bore the reader.

I'm sorry if this seemed harsh, you're definitely a talented writer, especially for your age. But you, like us all, have some problems you need to work on before you can get better. And, of course I only read the first two chapters, so I can't really say for the whole fic.

There's a book by Roald Dahl with a very similar premise to this. Have you read it? I remember it being very very good. The birds get arms and rifles and stuff and try to kill a family of hunters, who become humans with wings. Well, it's not entirely the same. :P

Also your word count pwns mine. Wtf. I should probably be writing instead of typing this, huh?
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Old 11-16-2010, 12:23 AM
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Default Re: mM's NaNoWriMo - Clarence's Jacket (title subject to change)

...*reads wall of criticism*

Note to self: Make Clarence less calm and interested in surrealism, add less description and more plot for equal word count, and no, I haven't read the book. Did I take it the wrong way? I guess I have more words because I use way too much description... they must have really hammered it into my head in English class.

Don't forget this is a rough draft. *shot for immaturity*

Anyway, new chapters. (These were written before I read the criticism, which will be implemented about three quarters of the way through chapter eleven. I just have to be careful not to use too little description...)

Chapter Nine: A Little Exploration

The falling sensation was the strongest it had ever been. Clarence knew that he was falling, but he hoped that he would be able to catch a current before he smacked into something. He extended his wings a little farther and frantically searched for a pathway that could support him.

He shouldn’t think too much. He was dropping fast, and headed beak-first for the ground. He didn’t bother to look up and check how far down he was, but he had been falling for about three quarters of a second now. Better pull up soon.

Clarence raised his head, but didn’t pump his wings. If he did, he would probably pull a muscle trying to work against such strong gravity. He changed the angle of his wings, though, and instantly came upwards on a column-shaped breeze.

All right, now the situation was reversed. Now he was falling up, but instead of banging against a branch, he would slow down and succumb to gravity again. But now that he was falling up, he could pump his wings without breaking the fragile, hollow bones. He flapped, giving some support, and used the stalling to level himself out.

So which way were the Hunting Woods? Clarence remembered that Seraneth had told him it was half a mile west of here. That shouldn’t be too hard, since his wings were refreshed after the preening session, but hunger might also be a factor. It wouldn’t be if he hurried, though. Maybe he would find a rabbit. They were bigger than mice but smaller than deer. Then again, what sort of bird would be big enough to catch a deer alone?

He weaved contentedly through the various types of trees in the Fortress. They were fairly close together, but left enough space for a bird to find some ways to get around them. Clarence liked being surrounded by foliage, though. It made him feel more comfortable than being surrounded by open space. In the latter, it was easier for a hungry predator of some sort to spot his black feathers against the light blue of the sky, but against a backdrop of trees he blended in all right with the darker colors. He was still a conspicuous moving shadow, though.

Then again, if he was really a moving shadow then he might be mistaken for the shadow of a different bird, and thus he would be safe. Not like there was anything around here that wanted to eat him in the first place.

He dodged through a narrow gap between the spiky branches of two coniferous trees. He examined them as he passed – one had russet-brown needles that formed patterns looking like big leaves, and the other was a plain, deep green tree he might see all the time back at home. The variety at Nighstar Fortress was amazing; how could so many different kinds of trees survive in such proximity, and all in the same environment?

Trees were hardy.

He did his best to keep his course westward, but there was usually a tree in his way, so he often had to dodge around something. The darkness only grew stronger as he advanced through the fortress, and he wasn’t sure how far a linear half mile was from this point.

As he rode the currents, about five minutes passed, and he reached a considerably different section of the forest. It had thick leaves that shadowed the floor, but at the same time there was a proficient amount of holes in the canopy to allow dapples of sunlight to pattern the ground with white and yellow polka-dots. It was like a twisted checkerboard that had been run through the washing machine and Clarence felt more at home observing the natural pattern.

This was probably the Hunting Woods. He curved to the left up an escalating current. His sense of touch told him that the current slid right past a branch that was suitable for holding the weight of a large eagle. He rode up effortlessly, and swiveled when he reached the perch so that he could grab out with his talons and snag the foothold. He flapped his wings a few times to steady himself and pull his feathers out of the pathway, and then settled on the limb.

As soon as he was balanced, he scanned the ground persistently. It was logical that the animals that lived here would be brown, since that would make it easiest for them to blend in and go undetected from less sharp-eyed birds. Clarence would have to look mainly for movement to find prey, as if he looked for the brown skins of his targets he would get excited when he glimpsed the forest floor.

There were too many trees too close to this one. Clarence slid into the air and took a short journey across to a tree with fewer leaves, and thus a less obstructed view. He tried to fly as silently as possible to avoid letting his possible lunch escape.

Clarence quickly and quietly snatched the branch ahead of him. He made an effort to balance himself without beating his wings, since moving his feathers rapidly would cause noise that would definitely let the animals know where he was. He withdrew his wings into his sides and watched the ground.

He turned in a semicircle, and then whirled back as a shadow shifted somewhere near the ground. A bush at the base of a nearby tree twitched, and then a light fawn-colored head with oversized ears poked out from behind the jagged leaves.

A rabbit!

Clarence kept his beak clamped shut. From now on he had to be as soundless as possible, or the rabbit would definitely notice him. He thought back to when he had caught the hyrax. This might be of a different difficulty, but he had no idea how hard it might be since he had never pounced on a rabbit before. Silence was definitely a virtue, but what else was important? Sight? Smell?

Only one way to find out…

Clarence inhaled deeply but quietly, and dropped himself from the branch towards the rabbit.

He kept his wings moving slowly to keep the rabbit from noticing his movement. He flew as smoothly as he could. The rabbit had moved, and was now quite a distance away. But distance didn’t matter here – as long as he got something to eat, it was fine.

The rabbit zoomed closer almost too fast. Clarence readied his talons, keeping them raised and open. So far, it hadn’t seen him, but –

It turned its head toward him, but he couldn’t hear it squeak. Instantly, it glanced around desperately, and then bounded off in a seemingly random direction, which happened to be to Clarence’s right. He didn’t swing on his pathway, but the small animal came almost close enough to reach.

Clarence ground his beak. Trying to make him curve and slow down? Better teach it a lesson.

He tilted his wings and banked a turn. Now the rabbit was zigzagging. Great.

He pumped his wings and groaned, not worried about keeping quiet now that the rabbit already knew he was there. The zigzag had a chance to slow him down, but it also reduced the rabbit’s speed, which gave him an advantage.

He flew low to the ground, focused on bisecting the rabbit’s path. He kept a straight course through the middle. The rabbit didn’t bother to look back to see if he was keeping up; it was paying too much attention to running for its life. But Clarence was indeed catching up.

He gave his wings a final beat, let out a yell, and shot his talons toward the round, coarse-furred body.

He didn’t grasp it right, and his grip slipped. Still the rabbit dashed, and still he pursued it. He tried aiming again, and this time he felt the satisfactory grip beneath the soles of his slender feet.

Clarence pumped his wings in ascension. An air current had formed beneath his wings, and he slipped up to the nearest suitable branch. He used his few open toes to get himself a perch, and then transferred the rabbit to his beak. While doing so, he was careful to bite it at the back of the neck to end its life quick and prevent needless suffering on its part.

Clarence bowed his head, and simultaneously his stomach growled. He laughed inwardly, but he was too focused on eating to let it out of his larynx. He dipped his beak into the neck first, interested to see what rabbit tasted like.

It was definitely not a bad taste. Considerably tougher than hyrax, but not in an unsatisfying way. The texture reminded him of biting into a sack of burlap, although it was definitely more appetizing than burlap.

Clarence ate his fill, which was equal to or less than the total amount of food in the rabbit. He wasn’t sure if his species naturally ate rabbits, but it didn’t really matter as long as it tasted good, and as long as he didn’t throw up later. Only owls did that.

He buried the remains as he did with the hyrax, and then wondered what he would do next. Maybe he could look over the cliff region a bit more and see what was there. There probably wouldn’t be too many exciting things, but at least he would know his way around a little more, and it would pass some time.

Clarence thought that he could possibly focus on flying up to get out of here, but he was also considerably close to the border of this place. He curved to his right in a three-quarter turn and traversed a few small air currents before settling on a strong one that wafted him back into the dark Fortress.

The blackness didn’t startle him; he knew it was coming. He pumped his wings and knew from experience that his vision was decent enough to keep him from bumping into anything.

He skirted the reddish pine tree that he had passed a while before. Clarence planned to move through his “segment” (or so Seraneth had called it) and transition into the rocky cliff area instead.

He let himself rise on a pathway. As far as he knew he had descended from his segment to get here, and he didn’t want to interrupt any birds in their own segments. The dark slate-brown face of the cliff was coming into sight, but it was only a blur of color behind the blacks, greens and sepias of the shadowed forest. He thought that bats might survive pretty well in Nightstar Fortress had it not been so crowded with birds. If a bat really did get into the fortress somehow, it would probably be promptly eaten by one of the raptors.

The curtain shape of his segment slowly drew into view. He flapped his wings a few time to provide ascension so that he could quickly dive through his segment and pop out on the other side of the tree. Hopefully it wouldn’t cause him to bang his head on the face of the cliff.

He considered transport more closely. He had seen that the cliff still rose much higher than his segment, so he would probably have to zigzag if he was going to follow it into the sky; if he were a falcon, or at least if he were a more experienced flier, he might be able to handle the maneuver of flying vertically up the face, but he lacked the short wings and small build of a falcon and thus thought himself unable to take on that challenging move for now.

He tucked his wings in as he entered the short hole in his segment, and reached out his talons – he had recently considered the fact that he might not be able to dive straight through the leaves without receiving a few cuts and feather wounds, so he would find a way out from his perch.

As he slowed down to land, he noticed a suitably sized hole in the other end of his segment. Clarence tipped forward again, beating his wings behind him to give himself some more horizontal boost. He successfully dived through the opening in the branches, and only spread his wings again as he was met with the face of the cliff.

It was still quite a distance away, but he didn’t want to risk running into it at full force. He almost halted in midair, and then calmed down. Time to perform the zigzagging like the rabbit, except this time it was vertical.

He twisted himself to face perpendicular to the cliff, and set himself on an ascending course along the straight section of the rock face. He went up fairly fast, but he would also have to turn around soon to avoid running into any jutting rocks as well as losing his course. After about a minute, he landed himself a curving air current, and sluggishly made a one hundred and eighty degree turn. He didn’t have to pump his wings thanks to the current, but as he slipped out of it he had to propel himself again. Rising was practically made of propelling, unless he was lucky enough to be on a warm-air current. Warm air usually rose, and thus made up the pathways above the ground that would lift a bird into higher elevations.

However, Clarence’s current was of fairly average heat, and so he had to flap his wings to stay in a rising path. The surface of the cliff lingered inches away from his right primary feather. He spaced himself from the rock a little more, since he didn’t want his feathers to be sheared away from continuous contact with such a hard material as stone.

He slowly rose, and pointed his beak towards the sky a little more. He tried to keep his body as streamlined as possible to aid with rising, and as flat as possible to aid against falling.

After a short while Clarence took another u-turn. He reminded himself of one of those human roller coasters which always took so many u-turns such as this one.

He looked up again. The cliff still loomed far above him, so he still had a long way to go until he reached the top. But did he have to really reach the top? The side of the cliff was interesting, as well. If only he had the ability to climb, he would be able to explore it in more detail. But he was a soaring bird, not a climbing bird, and so he was restricted to the air.

As the top of his segment drew further below him, he scanned the face of the rock. If he was a human, he never would have noticed all the grooves and bumps in the stone, let alone wanted to notice them at all. Maybe it had to do with the interests of a bird that made him so entertained by simply examining the natural patterns in a huge chunk of rock. He wondered if a conspicuous slab of rock could be like the night sky – if anyone could form constellations of sorts out of the patterns in its face. Then again, even if it was possible, and the idea was spread, what use would it be? Maybe it could be used for navigation, but only in a very restricted area. This was all perplexing.

Clarence turned around again. He would probably only have to do this one more time until he reached the top of the cliff. Then he would most likely explore the uninhabited segments of the cliff, and possibly the far side. He had the notion that there was a body of water on the opposite side of the rock formation, although there was honestly no way to tell until he saw it for himself.

Yet again he turned around. This wasn’t taking too long…

He glanced down instead of to the side for once. What he thought was his segment was far below him now, but the edge of the cliff was still quite a while above him. He reversed his vision direction, and instead looked up. The sky was a deep blue color signaling that the time was a little past noon, and the few clouds in sight were vibrant and wispy.

He had time to kill. And he had just sent some onto its tail feathers, because the rim of the cliff was beneath his talons. He skimmed the flat rock surface for a few seconds, gradually slowing down, and then finally let himself drop the few inches to the stone.

It wasn’t flat all the way across. There was a downward slope going toward the other end, but on the somewhat shallow slope there were several patches of level ground, even ground that tipped the opposite way. Clarence thought this rather confusing, but also convenient. He imagined himself being a bird on this cliff, needing a nest. He wouldn’t want a nest that was constantly slipping down, even if it was good for a nice thrill ride. Who knew what sort of danger a slippery nest might present?

As he glanced about the cliff, he noticed that few birds nested up here. Those that did were carefully tucked into a flat portion of the slope. One of the large birds was nested on top of a flat, stunted bush. It was Nightmare.

Nightmare was hunched in his nest as always, but he wasn’t preening. He was watching Clarence. The black eagle couldn’t help but think that Nightmare was suspicious of him, or perhaps angrily worried that he was here, but then again it was probably only the soulless-looking eyes deep in that vulture’s head that slipped that idea into his mind.

Instead of growling at him or otherwise reprimanding him for exploring, Nightmare started with small talk.

“Hi, Clarence,” he said, shifting a shoulder a little as if to give a lackluster wave. “How are you doing? Getting your bearings around here much?”

“I’m fine,” replied Clarence. “But thanks for asking. How are you?”

“The scavenging area of the Hunting Forest is only moderately plentiful,” answered Nightmare. “Which can lead through quite a few quarrels over food with the right fuel for violence. But that’s not much of a subject, now is it? Is your segment comfortable enough for your preference?”

“It’s nice. Seraneth put me somewhere that’s always illuminated green, thanks to the curtain of leaves I have around my segment. I think I’ll be able to live there for however long I’m staying here. Since I’m probably not leaving.”

“You’re close to correct.” Nightmare cocked his head and straightened his neck, as if he had been bunched up for too long and wanted to stretch his muscles. “I believe we still have at least a week or so until the Startup.”

“The Startup? What’s that?” Clarence narrowed his eyes suspiciously. He had heard the term a few times before in the Fortress, and it sounded oddly important, as if everyone was supposed to know about it and everyone would know for years to come.

“No one knows precisely, except Melinda, and maybe her macaw. It’s supposed to be the start of something epic, although again no one knows precisely what it is, except Melinda and maybe her macaw. Every bird in the fortress will take part of it.” Nightmare spread his wings to the full nine foot span like he was dictating a large crowd with his tale. After a moment, though, he withdrew his wings again, and looked like an old, withered bird once more (although Clarence knew doubtlessly that he was probably a teenaged vulture).

“So that means even me?” Clarence asked, forgetting his suspicion and instead adopting curiosity. “What’s it got to do with?”

“No one knows precisely, except Melinda, and maybe her macaw,” Nightmare repeated. Clarence was starting to get a little irritated, but the vulture seemed to pay no notice, if he even noticed at all.

“All right, then. So nobody can tell me?”

“I don’t think anyone’s supposed to know at all. Maybe it’s a big surprise and we’ll all enjoy it. Or maybe a meteor will crash into the Fortress and we all die. But it’s supposed to be the start of something, hence the name.”

“Okay, if you say so. Nice talking with you, Nightmare.” Then Clarence leaned to the side to look past the scavenger’s bulk. “What’s back there?”

“On the other end of the cliff? Nothing dangerous,” said Nightmare.

“I was going to go check it out,” Clarence told him, and began to fly low again. As he passed, he told the vulture, “See ya.”

Nightmare watched after him with his black, empty eyes, almost wistfully, and then turned his head down to preen through his thick, layered feathers.

Clarence didn’t bother wasting energy trying to gain altitude. The rock face was slowly sloping down, anyway, so it was like he was rising already, except without using the effort. Hopefully there was something at least mildly exciting on the other end. It could be a body of water, or a huge flock of seabirds. Either way, there would be something new to explore. Somehow Clarence liked exploring, although he really didn’t get the point other than to kill time, and to find out what there was around him. So there was a point.

He progressed along the slope until it suddenly dropped sharply beneath him. Disoriented, he turned around sharply, and glanced at the terrain below. There was an almost irritatingly small rocky beach at the foot of the cliff, although the wall on this end of the rock formation was shorter than the one on the other end. He wanted to go down for a closer look, but decided that for now he could see enough. There were birds in white black, and grey perched on the edge of the cliff, on overhangs on the side, and nested in the eight-foot beach at the foot of the stone. There were plenty of seagulls, but somehow Clarence had no trouble locating his brother among those sitting atop the cliff overlooking a body of water to which he hadn’t yet seen the end.

He lowered himself down to the elevation of the cliff edge, and soared a little while longer along the corner. As he had guessed, Rhys had noticed him, and was beating his wings and cawing enthusiastically.

“Hey, Clarence!” the gull called.

Soon Clarence answered by drawing closer to his brother. It took him a minute to find somewhere to perch, but once he did he laid his talons on the rock and stood next to the comparatively small seabird.

“How’s your segment?” Clarence asked, almost exactly like how Nightmare had confronted him with the same friendly question.

“It feels natural enough,” said Rhys, close to pessimistically. “I like overlooking this sea, here. And there are most likely fish in it, although I haven’t searched for one yet. I’m not quite hungry from my fish excursion about a day ago.”

“That’s strange,” Clarence muttered. “Aren’t birds supposed to eat a couple of times each day? How are you not hungry?”

“Maybe Deh-dem-whatever birds are different,” Rhys suggested, referring back to the macaw in the Copse stocked full with parrots. “We might not need to eat as often. Or I might still be a little human.”

“I’d sure like to try to catch a fish,” Clarence told his brother. “Although I don’t know if I’m supposed to eat it or not. Only sea eagles and others do that, don’t they?”

“You don’t look like the type to eat fish.”

Clarence shook his head quickly, and then transitioned into a full-out fluff. “Yeah, it might not be such a good idea,” he said nervously. “Maybe I should stick to other things. Like rabbits and hyrax.”

“Hyrax? What’s a hyrax?”

“Oh, it’s the first thing I ate as a bird. Apparently I’m supposed to be really good at hunting them, at least according to Rule. They’re like beavers, but they have a mouse’s head, and no tail.”

Rhys didn’t seem to be paying too much attention. “Speaking of Rule, do you know where he is?”

Clarence scanned along the coast of the expansive sea, and lost interest when he reached the point where the land receded into the cliff. “Herons live in marshes, don’t they? Is there a marsh over here somewhere?”

“I haven’t seen one, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t one. I probably haven’t been looking around as much as you.”

“Maybe I’ll find one. But I’m not really sure if I want to talk to Rule. He’s a little creepy, in a jittery way, if you get it.”

“I know what you mean. Corvus is fine, isn’t she? She’s not so aloof.”

Clarence fell silent at the mention of Corvus for some reason. “Where’s she?”

“In the forest somewhere, most likely. Where else would a woodpecker live?”

Clarence didn’t really know how to reply to that. He didn’t want to go and fly off now, or Rhys might think something suspicious was going on between them. They were two different species, but there was always such thing as extremely strong friendships. To avoid sounding stupid or far off, Clarence said the first thing that came to his mind. “Uh.” After considerably more thought, he added on, “Good point. I can go… back to my segment now, can’t I?”

“I don’t see why not. You have a right to your own home, you know.” Rhys shot out a wing and then receded it just as fast in a gesture that Clarence guessed was a sort of seagull-esque wink.

“All right, see you,” Clarence said emptily, and lifted off. He wasn’t sure what else to say, even though the seagull was his own brother. Was something wrong with him? As soon as he thought that, his mind strayed back to Keith. He hadn’t seen the kite since noon. Was he out hiding somewhere, or just in his own segment? Somehow the former seemed more possible to him. He probably just didn’t hold the kite in high esteem for some reason. Clarence’s first conclusion was that it was something about his auspicious title, “Silver Moonlight Swordsman.” What had he done in the past to earn an accolade like that? Something violent, probably, or he wouldn’t have obtained the “swordsman” part. Hadn’t Caerulea said it had something to do with his fighting style? What sort of fighting could he possibly do in a Fortress filled with birds that probably weren’t safe to eat? Did it just have to do with how he hunted his prey? Then again, if that was it, the overly precise Rule probably would have mentioned hunting style, not fighting style. Something suspicious was going on here. Who could Keith possibly fight against? And who was Keith, exactly?

-

Kokoro’s heart sank and lifted at the same time as the black-and-white shape blurred into view from beyond the blue pine needles. Keith had safely returned. But if that was true, why was she sad? Her instant conclusion was that she wasn’t sad – she was afraid. She was long aware of fear – specifically, for some reason she was afraid of looking at him. Was it for fear of what she might see? Or rather, for fear of what other birds might see?

“…You’re back,” she said, displaying no emotion. This shocked her, since she should have been joyful that he had returned to the segment. What was wrong with her?

Keith said nothing. Somehow his silence was a way of responding to her with, “Yes, I am back.” As she drew close, he dipped his head and ran his dangerous beak through the white feathers on her head, above her deep brown eyes.

“Did Rule make it across the Uncharteds all right?”

He finally replied with, “I accompanied the Demoneds across instead. Caerulea most likely went ahead. Who knows where he is now?”

Kokoro hesitated. Somehow that last sentence didn’t sound much like a question as much as a careless remark, as if to dismiss that subject of conversation and either lead the dialogue in a totally different direction or halt it entirely.

“So what now?” she asked. “The Startup will be here in a week.” Naturally, she was afraid to say what came next. But naturally, Keith seemed to know what came next.

“I’ll survive,” he assured her, although he didn’t sound so positive himself. “But don’t worry about it if I don’t. Everyone will be fine.”

Kokoro let her jaw drop slightly. “The… they’re dangerous,” she reminded him, almost desperately.

Keith said nothing again. Apparently he didn’t want to discuss this for some reason. He couldn’t be afraid too, could he? Keith wasn’t scared of much, as far as Kokoro knew. Probably being alone was one, but then again he was usually alone. He liked to fly out by himself at night, so if anything he treasured being alone.

This was all a little confusing for Kokoro. Keith was too much she couldn’t understand, and yet she kept telling herself she knew what he was like. Maybe she really didn’t, but maybe that wasn’t a bad thing.

Kokoro tried to think of something to speak about – her mouth was drying out, and she closed it; it felt a bit uncomfortable being silent – but nothing came to her mind, and so she just sat there, only barely aware of Keith’s beak preening through her feathers.

Finally, she asked him, “Were the Uncharteds as lifeless as usual?” She was a bit surprised; she hadn’t meant to be so lighthearted, and it forced a halfhearted laugh out of her throat.

“Why not?” Keith asked mystically, and then raised his head for some reason. He probably just wanted to be alone again.

Kokoro glanced at the sky through the teal needles of the pine tree. The tiny currents in the air blew sluggishly by her face, ruffling the feathers on her cheeks. The sky was definitely darkening, but only slowly. It would be nighttime in a few hours, but she still had time to groom through the rest of her feathers.

She was somehow obsessively preening after that thought, too.
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Why would anyone want to turn back time? There’s no meaning in regret. No point in thinking about things I could have done. Because there’s no guarantee that any decision is the right one.
-Ryunosuke, Wild Adapter 6


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Old 11-16-2010, 12:25 AM
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Default Re: mM's NaNoWriMo - Clarence's Jacket (title subject to change)

Chapter Ten - A Visit with Corvus
uwaa why is this even a chapter

Clarence flew a ring around each tree once, or maybe it was twice. He wasn’t exactly counting, but for some reason he had to find Corvus. Was she hungry? He thought about turning towards the Hunting Woods to see if she was there, but that would be pointless if she wasn’t.

As he was considering possibilities, he had to turn around. The small, dull-colored shape had mindlessly darted past him, and he wanted to catch up with her. Hopefully he was following the right crow woodpecker.

“Corvus, is that you?” he called after the woodpecker, and it made him more comfortable when she didn’t answer. Instead, she rotated herself and perched on the nearest branch of a tree, which extended far from the trunk.

“Hi, Corvus,” said Clarence casually, and sat next to her on the branch. Fortunately it didn’t seem to want to break anytime soon. His comparatively heavy shape was safe for now.

“How’s life?” he asked. He didn’t bother to ask how her segment was – she had been here for a while, definitely longer than him, and so she probably knew perfectly well what her segment was like.

She chirped optimistically, and flared her wings as if to show him how happy she was. Then she inched her head towards him with another bright-sounding chirp.

He smiled, and she seemed satisfied that she was conveying the message. Then she jumped up from the branch briefly and then landed, and shortly afterward she charaded eating something like an eagle.

“The food’s good,” he muttered to himself absently, as if there was a voice in his mind that was translating for him.

Then Corvus looked at him questioningly and set forth with a row of peeps, rising in pitch at the end as if she was inquiring something.

“I’m doing fine,” he answered instinctively. “Although everyone I’ve heard so far is talking about something called the Startup. According to one of my colleagues, nobody knows much what it is. It’s confusing, really.”

She nodded her small head in a chicken-like fashion, and then continued staring at him, as if urging him to keep talking.

“Other than that, I’ve eaten a rabbit, and looked around a little bit.” He reclined his head a little. “This place is fantastic. I sure hope you’ve enjoyed it.”

He looked back down at her, scolding himself mentally. Why am I talking to her? She’s a mute woodpecker! I don’t even know what she’s trying to tell me!

“Is the Startup something bad?” he inquired. As if she would know more than anyone what the Startup is.

She looked despondent and squeaked softly. Then she glanced at him and pointed a wing in the direction of the Copse, letting loose with a barrage of various bird noises.

Clarence scowled slightly. He felt hopeless trying to translate a big monologue of “tweet-tweet-tweet-tweet-tweet” into something understandable. He paused, as if to mimic her in her silence and convey the message that he was just about totally stumped.

“It has to do with the Copse, I know,” he told her, lowering his head and shoulders. “The birds in there probably know what it is, but they’d never tell me even if I asked. Why would they? Nightmare said it’s supposed to be a big surprise.”

She nodded slowly, and looked a little defeated. Whatever she must have told him just now must have had some sort of flaw which she hadn’t realized. She looked up at him again questioningly, and he pretty much knew right off the bat what she was trying to ask him.

“That’s all,” he said. “Sorry, I don’t know why I came here. I probably wasted your time.” He turned away to take off, when she started chirping defiantly. Fortunately it wasn’t a string of untranslateable noises again – it was just a few syllables of bird language that a human might hear.

Clarence aimed back for his own segment without acknowledging her. Knowing her, she was countering with, “you didn’t waste my time at all,” but Clarence could never be sure. There were phrases more deadly that could be fit behind a mask of discreet avian noises.

-

Clarence didn’t know it, but Corvus was also a Demoned-bird. That is, she had once been a human, but had shifted into the body of a bird and come to the Fortress. When she changed forms, though, she had lost a few harmless memories in the transition, as well as her name. (She picked a new one short afterward.) But one thing that had always been lost was her voice. Corvus had never learned to talk, or figured out how to make noises in the human language when she was a human, or bird language when she was a bird. She had always been, by definition, mute. She was incapable of speech that anyone could understand. She usually just spoke in what noises she knew how to make, but that wasn’t usually enough to convey her meaning across. The world today was so complex that a simple happy chirp could mean anything to the ears of other birds.

But somehow Clarence was different from the others she had met all her life. Clarence seemed to get what she was trying to tell him through peeping at least half the time, and he seemed to miss the longer messages rather than the slightly more complex one. If she had chosen what kind of bird he had become, he would have been an owl for his acute hearing.

However, there were no owls at the Nightstar Fortress. Activities that required the entirety of birds at the Fortress would surely take place during the day, which would be irritating had any owls lived in the Fortress. It was more complex when nocturnal and diurnal birds were mixed.

Corvus had become experienced at bird life quickly. She didn’t know much anyone around, so she had no idea of telling who envied her, but doubtlessly there was at least one bird in the Fortress who would eagerly trade their voice for the ability to learn as fast as her. After only about a day, she had grown adept at snatching insects straight from the air, dodging around even the most sudden obstacles in flight, and participating in other such activities. But the fact remained that she didn’t know how to speak bird language. She could understand it as well as anyone could, but she couldn’t make herself make the right noises. She had tried for a long time, and given up a while ago when she had tried everything and still failed to speak. Even without a correctly developed voice, she was still an honored and envied bird in the Fortress.

But she wanted to be left alone. She was terrified by the thought that Lady Melinda might want her for something, such as a leader’s position. Corvus wanted to remain the subordinate for her life – she didn’t want to let anyone down with her disability of voice. Her ambition was to dazzle them with her flight for her life rather than lead them unknowingly to a world of silence and destruction.
__________________

Why would anyone want to turn back time? There’s no meaning in regret. No point in thinking about things I could have done. Because there’s no guarantee that any decision is the right one.
-Ryunosuke, Wild Adapter 6


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Old 11-16-2010, 11:37 PM
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Default Re: mM's NaNoWriMo - Clarence's Jacket (title subject to change)

Chapter Eleven: The Meeting

There was a call to gather in the Copse the morning following the next. Clarence didn’t know what it was for, but he obeyed it. Wasn’t the Copse rather small, though? How would all the birds gathered in around sixteen square miles be able to fit into such an insufficient meeting place?

Clarence was surprised by how many cubic feet it contained, though. The Copse itself might only be a small section of the Fortress, but the trees above and around it were enough to accommodate every type of bird he could think of within hearing range of the floor of the Copse, and some of those species had even two or three individuals. It totaled to about three thousand birds from his estimate, although he was almost sure that he was a couple hundred off at best. So what was this gathering for, anyway?

He didn’t bother voicing his opinion to any birds next to him. He had intentionally been seated adjacent to Corvus and across the Copse from Keith. Something about the kite creeped him out, and the monochromatic bird seemed even more antagonistic when he was perched next to an individual of his same species. From the looks of it, they were of the opposite gender, although there wasn’t much of a way to tell from here.

“So what is this for?” Instead, he asked himself the question, which really didn’t help him get closer to the answer at all.

He was mentally scolding himself for being weak in the brain when a hush fell over the crowd. Something important was going to happen now – he could feel it in the way the air currents shifted uncomfortably, copying the movements made by various birds around the Copse. Not only that, he recalled, but the so-called Startup was only five days away. Clarence was afraid that it would be something dangerous, and the fact that time was flying by like a falcon next to him didn’t help him regain his courage.

Something moved behind that window of darkness, a portal of blackness that seemed to lead nowhere. Clarence hadn’t really noticed it before, but a huge spot of black where a tunnel should have been was suspicious, especially when there was a brightly colored macaw perched over it.

There was more movement behind the pane of darkness, and then a figure stepped out. Immediately the macaw perched on the humanoid thing’s shoulder. The figure was wearing an overly sized witch hat, which hid its face, so Clarence didn’t know how to tell whether it was male or female, since a loose black robe also reached down to the ground and surrounded its torso, though the suntanned, human hands extending from the vague sleeves at least comforted him a little. If he moved his eagle eyes at the right angle, he could also see a chin there, the same color as the hands. Now he was confident that this thing was human… but what in the world was a human doing here in the Fortress? He held in a screech of shock and indignation, though it was difficult.

The figure raised its hands as if to embrace an elephant, and the macaw on her shoulder mimicked the movement exactly, which sent a shudder down Clarence’s spine.

All the birds he saw nodded their heads in a chicken-like fashion, so Clarence did so as well. Why did the human – or at least it seemed human – have such an air of authority over these birds? Was it Lady Melinda, or so everyone called her?

His question was answered quickly when the macaw lowered its wings and uttered the name. “Lady Melinda,” it said loudly, apparently addressing the group with an introduction of which most of the birds were already aware.

The human that seemed to be Lady Melinda lowered her hands in the same mirroring fashion. Then she spoke with a voice that sounded entirely human and undecipherable, but Clarence still found the meaning in it somehow.

“The word has been passed around,” she told the birds in her voice that could somehow be understood, even though it just sounded like human gibberish to Clarence’s bird ears. “that the Startup will arrive soon. Indeed, whoever spread this rumor is correct, although I must warn you that rumors can poison you.”

She paused, and then continued speaking. “But that’s not the current issue. The current issue is that not all birds are experienced in combat – in fact none of you probably are, unless you are a veteran here.”

All of the eyes in the Copse seemed to turn toward Keith as if he was an alien from another planet. What surprised Clarence was that the swallow-tailed kite cringed away, as if he was trying to inch away from the mass of attention.

“I can tell you,” Melinda proceeded almost harshly, and the attention of the avians turned back to her. “That you must wield combat skills by wielding your instinct. Your instinct is what leads you.” She looked around as if perplexed, and then appeared to change the subject.

“But since none of you probably know what the heck I’m talking about with all this combat stuff, I can explain what The Startup is.” At this sentence, she actually sounded a little humorous, but then the atmosphere in the Copse grew far darker. “The Startup is the beginning of our rebellion against those creatures who destroy everything on the face of the earth and have absolutely no respect for any other beings…”

Clarence cringed, both inwardly and physically. What beings was she talking about?

“Us, the birds and creatures, will rise against the humans and bring peace to the earth when the horrid species is finally eradicated. Without them, there will be nothing left to maim the planet further into its sickly state, and we will rebuild without those hopeless scum.”

Clarence scowled at this. Humans had a place too, didn’t they? And besides, how could a few thousand birds possibly kill off the billions of humans on the planet? Where in the world did these guys plan to start? Were they just plain stupid?

Corvus seemed to notice his mounting frustration, because she peeped meekly at his side. He glanced down at her, softening his gaze to avoid glaring, and felt himself calm down.

Melinda continued, “So I expect every one of you to keep yourself in best possible health for the next five days before the beginning of this grand event, the purifying of the earth. Stay strong, but don’t overeat, and make sure you’re in good shape when we leave the morning following four. That’s all. Ask the macaw if you have questions about this.”

Then the tropical bird lifted itself from her shoulder and onto its perch above the doorway of darkness, into which Melinda quickly withdrew backwards, her strange fashion sense echoing in Clarence’s mind.

“Okay then,” Clarence told himself, and looked around as the rest of the three thousand birds began to return to their segments. So basically he was living in a suitable home, but he was only waiting for an impending rebellion against humans? Sure, they did ruin a lot of things on the earth, but they weren’t all bad. This Melinda person must be crazy.

“That was strange,” Clarence muttered, and glanced down at Corvus. She seemed just as perplexed as he was by the meeting. “So how are we going to make humans go extinct? There are only three thousand or so of us here.”

Corvus raised her shoulders briefly in a bird shrug, and nodded to Clarence before flitting off towards her segment.

Clarence sighed, and then watched as a blue shape darted towards him to perch on the branch where Corvus had been moments before. It was Ava. Clarence hadn’t seen his sister in a while.

“How’s it going?” he asked her, extending a wing in an inviting manner. She quickly shuffled under it. “You still confused?” He paused and then narrowed his eyes. “Am I the only one who thinks Melinda is a little bit of a loose cannon? No sense at all.”

“I have to agree with you on that one,” she told him with an almost silent laugh. “But I’m not sure if I’ll be able to fight as much as the bigger birds. My instinct is telling me to be a distraction, if anything.”

“That’s good,” Clarence encouraged her. “Just make sure your diversion doesn’t risk your life. I’m not losing my siblings in a crazy ambition of a lady with an oversized witch hat.” He gave her an amiable nudge, hoping she would be cheered up by his attempted comic relief.

Indeed, she did give him a little smile in response, but nothing much more. “I won’t. I’ll be sure to stay far away from things that have a chance of hurting me.”

“Good,” said Clarence.


Hesitantly, he ascended into the air. There really wasn’t anything else to speak about. But was he supposed to actually kill a human? He couldn’t forget that he was once a human, too. He couldn’t imagine himself stealing life from the dominant species on the planet, and much less one that he had been before.

This brought him back to whether he preferred being a human or a bird. It depended on the situation, he guessed – but right now, he couldn’t instantly decide. It wouldn’t be good to experience being slashed by an eagle’s dangerously hooked talons. But in a bird’s point of view, it wouldn’t be good to experience being shot by a human gun. Then again, if a bird flew in a certain fashion, he might be able to dodge the worst of the blows. At this point it would be hard to determine which side would be the victor in this little scrimmage.

How long would the rebellion last, anyway? How many humans would it actually effect, even the goal spanned the entire world? It was such a skeptical and controversial subject, and as Clarence considered several viewpoints, he found that his wings were bringing him towards the Hunting Woods. This brought him out of the future and into the present. He remembered eating about twenty-four hours ago, and even after the meeting with Melinda, when he should have lost his appetite at the thought of fighting humans, he was hungry. He was supposed to eat about twice a day, but he remembered that he had neglected that rule of thumb the day before, which left his stomach feeling inevitably empty. Still, he was surprised that he could participate in such severe multitasking.

Clarence kept his mind off the rebellion and on food. He drew nearer to the section of considerably brighter woods, promising himself a fulfilling meal.

As he swooped into the Woods, he scanned the ground beneath him. It then occurred to him that he had never seen a bird in the Hunting Woods, or at least one that was available as food. His first thought was that this was because prey-birds in the woods could easily be mistaken for Demoned-birds and vice versa, since there was apparently no physical difference between the two.

Now at least Clarence knew why he had turned into a bird. It happened so that he could aid Melinda and the other birds in a fight against humankind. But that wasn’t what he wanted to do… he just wanted to indulge in the freedom of flight and the bliss of inhumanity. He didn’t want to kill anyone!

He was tugged violently out of his thoughts as movement flashed in the corner of his eye. He briefly remembered that he was sitting on a perch, which was fortunate because he otherwise would have flung himself painfully to the ground and missed his prey.

Clarence crouched down, prepared to strike. The creature that had moved was another rabbit, like the one he had eaten a few days prior to this one, except this one was larger. It sent his stomach rumbling quietly, and he wished he could silence it so that the rabbit wouldn’t pick up on his location.

He kept the rebellion out of his mind as he dove for the rabbit from his perch. He grew worried as the animal immediately noticed him and turned to run away, but it chose the wrong direction and was met with the trunk of a stout tree. Apparently stunned, it looked around sluggishly and pressed itself against the tree, as if it was asleep. Clarence would have to modify his trajectory to avoid smacking into the tree right after he grasped his prey.

Working quickly to avoid letting the rabbit run away, he changed his angle of attack a little. Just as the rabbit twitched to show that it was again fully aware of its surroundings, Clarence hurtled towards it. He snatched it expertly in his talons, satisfied at the feel of coarse rabbit fur and skin on the soles of his feet. He quickly snapped his wings into a sideways position so that he was carried back to his perch and away from the other tree by the wind. He let the rabbit out of its suffering as he settled on the limb of the tree, using his wings to keep himself balanced. His stomach growled in anticipation, and instantly he bowed his head into the oversized rabbit.

He wanted to quell his stomach as quickly as possible, but he knew that if he ate faster he would get hungry sooner, so he took his time to painstakingly evade his urge to wolf it down.

Clarence was grateful that he had the ability to eat slowly, because the rabbit was of high quality – uniquely tough, but not overly chewy or bitter, and filled with moisture. Lowering his eating speed gave him more time to savor his meal. He wondered whether his days which he could spend enjoying such a meal were limited.

He let himself consume the rabbit slowly, and had picked its bones almost entirely clean after about fifteen minutes. Maybe he should get back to his segment soon. Or he could visit his siblings, preferably Rhys. He hadn’t seen Rhys since his first venture over the cliff. And he was far enough away that he would most likely be able to rise over the elevation of the top of the rock formation, and he wouldn’t have to zigzag all the way up again.

Clarence buried the remains of his rabbit and leaped into flight. He focused more on gaining height than distance so that he wouldn’t have to spend time taking the slow way up the cliff again.

The floor of the Hunting Woods disappeared below him in a flurry of leaves and pine needles. He glanced down at the trees, but it was only a split second before he turned his eyes ahead again and zipped between the branches of the more obstacle-type trees. It was fairly easy to avoid scratching himself on the wood, but nevertheless he dodged out of the thicker forest so that he wouldn’t waste his energy trying to do so.

He had barely expected Ava to pop up out of nowhere and fly beside him. But the dark-blue bird appeared and did so, and immediately started speaking.

“Where are you going now?” the barn swallow asked him.

“I’m going to visit Rhys,” Clarence replied. “I haven’t seen him in a while. You can come along if you want.”

“Sure I do,” Ava said between energetic flits of her wings. “He lives by the big sea, doesn’t he?”

“That’s right,” answered Clarence absently. “We should focus on going up, though, because there’s a rock wall in front of the sea, and it takes forever to get past it if you’re not high up enough.”

Ava didn’t reply to this. Instead, she continued on silently in her swallow’s flying style, and she made it hard for him to keep up with her. He pumped his wings, stabled his falling sensation, and advanced quickly past the trees. He wondered how high he was, and whether he would fall back to earth out of intimidation.

The trees spread out more, and he was finally able to see through their branches to the shadowed ground. The ground seemed terribly far way, although Clarence couldn’t be sure whether the details were just unnaturally small. He would have to wait until he went over the cliff to determine his altitude. Even so, it would still be inaccurate, since the sloped top of the cliff would be higher than the surrounding ground.

So he wouldn’t be able to calculate his altitude for a while. It didn’t really matter, though; he was still flying.

Suddenly the trees withdrew, and the only things surrounding him were Ava, the sky, and a rocky surface. From his estimation, he was about fifteen feet above the slope – he should probably lower himself so that he could get to Rhys sooner.

“I’m going down a little,” he called to Ava, and let his lift-force fade out slowly until he was falling at about the same rate as the elevation of the rock surface. He let himself descend a little faster, and so he would be able to slide comfortably onto the other edge of the cliff, and thus into easier conversation with Rhys. It was rather thrilling to descend like this, but it felt almost too dangerous. I’ll be okay, Clarence told himself confidently. He told himself this, but he uneasily slackened his hips anyway. Never know when he might suddenly need to land.

After about a minute, a flash of blue came past the sepia and slate of the rock. Clarence angled his wings and flapped in a slowing manner, giving himself time to lower his talons to the stone and shift all of his weight from his shoulders to his feet. He balanced himself, settled out, and then turned his head to his left, towards a tall white gull.

“Hi, Rhys,” he said sheepishly. “Sorry for dropping in unexpectedly.”

Rhys watched something behind Clarence (probably Ava’s flight) for a minute, and then switched his attention back to his brother.

“No, it’s fine,” he said distractedly. “Good to see you. Did you eat breakfast yet?”

“I just came from breakfast. Did you?”

“Of course I did. Otherwise I wouldn’t have asked you.” Rhys paused, and dipped his head thoughtfully. “What do you think of the rebellion? It’s sorta stupid, isn’t it? Does Miss Creepy-Person-Whose-Hat-Is-Too-Big really think that she can compel birds who had once been humans to lash out at their own species? I think she must have hit her head pretty hard when she was younger or something.”

“Ah, she’s sure crazy, all right,” Clarence said, and picked at one of his secondary wing feathers.

“Does she want to kill us intentionally or what?” Ava interjected. “Some of us are exceedingly small and will die quicker than the others. I know we’re supposed to go on instinct, and my instinct tells me to create some sort of diversion, but I’m still vulnerable.”

Clarence and Rhys sighed simultaneously. Ava was indeed smaller and younger than the both of them, but her arguments were vicious like the bite of a venomous snake.

“Sorry,” Rhys told her hesitantly, and twitched his wings in guilt and discomfort. “I… can’t change what Melinda thinks.”

Everyone was silent after that. This debate was a difficult one to settle, especially when it turned into a sibling argument. Clarence didn’t want to end this visit on a negative note, though.

“Well, let’s just do what we can, all right, everyone? We all like each other. Just remember that.”

As his siblings stared at him with an unknown emotion, he realized that he really didn’t know why he had said that, but he felt it kept his siblings from somehow hating each other. “Have a good time, since we might not see each other again until the rebellion.”

Not knowing what else he could say, Clarence quietly lifted off towards the nearby body of water; he wanted to explore a little more before he had to fight. Due to its size, he guessed that it was salt water, although there really was no way to tell. He lowered himself to the beach, which took a little time to do safely, and gripped the sand rather than a stable perch. He ran his eyes across the area of grit experimentally, but then his gaze shifted to the waves. They looked peaceful even as they crashed into one another, and emanating from then was a calming noise like a gentle breeze on a mountaintop. He liked this place, but it wasn’t a natural home for an African eagle like him. Still, he slowly took to the air, and dragged himself just inches above the reaches of the flowing water. He considered flying across to wherever the other side of this sea was and just flee from all of this, but he didn’t want to leave his siblings behind to die alone.

They wouldn’t die, though. He wouldn’t let them. He would survive to live after the rebellion…

And then what? What would he do after the rebellion? Live as a normal bird? Yeah, that might be good…

Clarence glanced back over his shoulder. The cliff was drawing farther away. Maybe he should go back. His siblings might be worried about him. If they thought he was abandoning them, they were wrong. Big brothers don’t abandon their younger brothers or sisters. Well, ones that were in the right mind don’t, and Clarence was in the right mind.

While barely moving his head, he shifted his angle to ride the wind back towards the shore. It wasn’t really much of a shore as much as it was a stretch of sand in front of a cliff that sank into the water. Then again, it was still a shore, wasn’t it?

Clarence wasn’t exactly the most responsive, upbeat bird ever, but he still wouldn’t turn his back on his siblings.

After what was probably about three minutes, the sea breeze brought him back to the cliff … and then he asked them, after some thought:

“Forests don’t naturally grow by the ocean, do they?”

Ava was the one to respond, and she shrugged. “I doubt oceans form by forests, either. But it doesn’t look like it’s hurting anything, so it probably doesn’t matter.” She hesitated and fluffed her feathers before moving on. “We’re leaving here in a few days anyway. I’m not sure if we’re coming back, either. So let’s not dwell on a minor flaw with the landscaping.”

Clarence chuckled. He sighed for some reason, and then looked at his brother and sister. “I’ll see you guys later, all right? It’s past noon and I still haven’t preened today.”

Both of the birds smiled. “See you, Clarece!” they enthusiastically said in unison.

Cheered, Clarence bowed his head to them, and puled himself into the air. It may have seemed like he was just trying to get away from them, but he hadn’t lied about his preening.

--

As he was grooming and the sun crept unnoticeably across the sky, Clarence couldn’t stop thinking about the rebellion. But he arn his beak through his back feathers, and somehow that action caused his mind to wander straight to Keith, the swallow tailed kite he hadn’t seen for a while. If Keith had earned his title “Silver Moonlight Swordsman” from his fighting style (according to Caerulea, who he hadn’t seen in a while either), then there must have been some sort of fight before this one that Clarence didn’t know about. He didn’t think that Keith really used a sword, since he hadn’t seen one around, but maybe the kite attacked as if he was using a sword rather than his bare talons. He must be vicious in combat… If there really was a fght before, though, against whom had it been launched?

It was most likely only of historical significance, but for some reason Clarence wanted to know what happened in the past. For example, for how long had Nightstar Fortress been inhabited? Had it been “built,” or had it formed naturally? If the former, had it been created by birds, or something entirely different? How long had it taken to grow?

Okay, now he was almost starting to get into architecture. That subject was definitely different from history, so maybe he should stop thinking about this before he began thinking too discursively. Preening was slightly more important right now, anyway.

He transitioned to the feathers on his front side. Knowledge of all these details wasn’t entirely necessary. Melinda had told the birds to stay in good shape … maybe he should focus on that.

Speaking of which, why did Melinda wear a hat (let alone one that covered her entire face)? Eh, that wasn’t important either. Now he was really being discursive. He should keep his mind relaxed for the rebellion; he would need to be sane and clear of mind. Just if for some strange reason he decided to create a rebellion of his own.
__________________

Why would anyone want to turn back time? There’s no meaning in regret. No point in thinking about things I could have done. Because there’s no guarantee that any decision is the right one.
-Ryunosuke, Wild Adapter 6


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Old 11-19-2010, 11:03 PM
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Default Re: mM's NaNoWriMo - Clarence's Jacket (title subject to change)

Chapter Twelve: To Battle

The next several days were just about the first average ones Clarence had experienced since arriving at the Fortress. Still the plot for the rebellion buzzed in his head, but it was hidden behind his schedule of preening, eating, and flying.

Clarence lived those four days to their fullest, always at least half-aware that he would be fighting sometime in the near future. Sleep eluded him for a while, but he managed to sink into slumber for a few short hours every night. It was sufficient, even though a drowsy haze lingered just inside his mind in the waking world. Now, as he opened his eyes from the final night, anticipation eagerly struck his chest. Today was the day to go to battle, to rebel against the human race for spiting their home planet. He would probably be leaving the Fortress, since as far as he could tell there were no humans around here, save for Melinda.

Clarence started preening anxiously. If he guessed right, his feathers would get quite ruffled in a fight, so he would have to take good care of them beforehand. Hopefully they wouldn’t get too stained with red, and if they did there would be a way to wash them without getting disdainfully wet. It would be better if they were never colored at all, though.

As he lifted his head to pull through a feather, he noticed a buff-colored, rounded shape approaching him from the other side of his segment’s green curtain. It was easy for him to recognize the shape as Nightmare; Clarence didn’t know any other giant vultures who lived in the Fortress.

Clarence shuffled out of the curtain to the other end of the branch as Nightmare pulled himself to a stop on the limb. He didn’t want to leave the vulture with the possibly difficult task of fitting himself through the leaves.

“Hi, Nightmare,” he said quickly, forgetting to leave his anxiety out of his voice. He paused for a moment, took a deep breath, and continued in a considerably calmer manner. “Stopping by for a visit?”

“That too,” Nightmare told him breathlessly, “but I came over here as fast as I could. It’s about time to gather at the front gate to get to the rebellion. You might want to come now, although it would be all right if you spent a few more moments doing whatever.”

Clarence thought this over for a moment, and then nodded hastily. “I can come now. My feathers can wait.”

“Let’s go.”

Clarence transferred his weight to the air and lowered himself slightly below the branch before beating his wings to rise again. He glanced up quickly to see Nightmare watching him intently, his oversized wings barely twitching to support him in the thermals. Clarence found himself envying Nightmare slightly, but he was still glad he didn’t have to lift such a heavy-looking body.

He rose up about ten feet, trying to direct himself towards the entrance in the dim morning light. He hung back a little until Nightmare drifted below him, and then worked on following the brownish shape of the vulture. He could fortunately still detect the branches and trees with his sharp eyes, but they turned up as slightly colored sepia and green silhouettes about thirty feet ahead of him. This gave him time to evade their dangerous lengths but also keep his trajectory fairly straight. Thanks to Nightmare’s bulk, he made it to the entrance of the Fortress within a few minutes.

He wasn’t sure whether Ava and Rhys were already there, but nevertheless he perched in a tree just inside the gate. There were no guard-birds on the limbs extending from the outer wall, which was probably because they were all meeting in here. Clarence scanned the area in his fairly short radius, and within thirty feet of him he estimated that there were almost a hundred birds sitting in the trees. He didn’t recognize any of them, but he predicted that Rhys and maybe Caerulea would be standing on the ground somewhere, as their feet weren’t properly designed for perching in trees. Ava could be just about anywhere, since she was an agilely built bird, and she could attach herself to the inside wall of the Fortress, to a limb of a tree like a regular avian, or maybe even somewhere far above him. It was hard to tell the difference between species in the darkness anyway.

Curious, Clarence turned his head towards the gate – he could tell where it was because the area around it was illuminated by the absence of obstacles to block the light. The sky outside was the only thing visible outside other than the emerald grass, and it was dyed vibrant hues of pink and violet by the slowly rising sun. Clarence wanted to go outside and see more, but he resisted, thinking that Melinda might punish him if he was absent from this second gathering.

He looked around a little bit more. His ears couldn’t detect anything over the thick silent cacophony of birds, but there had to be some sort of signal that Melinda was here. Then he noticed the macaw cleverly perched on the top rim of the gate, hanging almost upside down but still managing to grip the arching branch with ease. Clarence reminded himself that parrots were able to hang like that for a while, but for some reason he doubted he could mimic the pose. It was better not to try, since he might not be able to recover himself with flight if he fell. It might startle him too much to drop from such an angle.

The macaw seemed to straighten itself after a minute, and then shrieked a parrot shriek. The small amount of chattering in the group of birds was instantly cut off, and for a moment there was no sound at all. Then, after a few seconds, Clarence could barely hear some sort of shuffling on the ground. He guessed it was Melinda… but how could she get through the gate? She couldn’t climb through it with that loose cloak on… if she was just a normal human, she might have to stay behind – but maybe she really wasn’t normal. He hoped she was, since it would be creepy if she were part bird or something.

Clarence watched as the macaw opened its beak again, and flinched in anticipation. Thankfully, its voice was quieter this time, and it simply instructed the crowd gathered at the entrance to the Fortress.

“This morning, we gather here to finally cast our rebellion against the humans. Our force has grown over three thousand strong, and this will guarantee that we wipe out plenty of the population so that we hinder and discourage their growth. Not only this, but our insightful Lady Melinda has planned several moving rendezvous with other similarly sized Fortresses, nearly increasing our force tenfold and more. These sinful creatures, the humans, must be stopped before they gain the ability to kill the already dying planet with their machines. So we take our leave, prepared to risk everything for the sake of the world.” And then it cast itself off of its inverted perch and glided out of the Fortress, leaving a trace of its sapphire and green feathers drifting in the air.

Clarence couldn’t breathe. He had never been able to take speeches too well, and this was no exception. Nevertheless, he feared that he would be too alone if he stayed behind, and launched himself towards the gate.

There was no turning back now. The rebellion had started, and Clarence feared too big of a fight to settle anytime in history. The unimaginable future was coming, and it was only going to be announced by a thick smog of birds approaching whatever town was their first target. Doubtless a majority of the birds they recruited would make it across the Uncharted Lands, if the army was even crossing them. For all Clarence knew, there could be a huge city just stocked with victims only a few miles away. He shuddered mid-flight, stumbling in his current. He imagined that he wasn’t the only one intimidated by the concept of a battle on such a large scale, but there wasn’t much of a way to tell without revealing his fears. And for some reason, he didn’t much want to do that. One of his other fears was what Lady Melinda might do to him if she found out.

--

Kokoro’s feathers trembled as she left the enshrouding darkness and continued into the blinding morning light. This light was a sign of sure death for her. The rebellion was coming, and she couldn’t stop it, even though she could participate in it. As far as her knowledge went, she was going to die. She was definitely not experienced in fighting, although her instinct was definitely a strong point. She had no idea how to attack or dodge efficiently, and she worried that if she tried to cause a diversion she’d sacrifice herself for nothing.

She slowly drifted away from the dull-colored cloud of birds. She was sure that Keith would be flying out on the edge by himself, instead of being valiantly at the point like it seemed he should be doing at first. It was inevitable that Keith was solitary for the most part, even if he did act relatively friendly toward her.

For what seemed like several minutes she separated herself from the monochromatic blend of birds, even if in reality it was only seconds. A vague white shape shined against the fiery sky about four hundred feet away like the moon relentlessly reflecting the sun’s light in defiance to the darkness. It made sense, since Keith’s probably too heroic title was “the Silver Moonlight Swordsman.” She imagined that he felt that he didn’t need such a showy label, but naturally his placid personality prevented him from complaining about it.

She nervously drifted towards him, the smooth wind level and comforting. But she always had the idea that he would suddenly yell at her for no reason, bringing her back to her fear of being scolded. But what was it really…?

He turned his head towards her unexpectedly, and she flinched. It was his eyes, wasn’t it? She was afraid of looking at him, for fear of what she might see. But why would it matter?

He said nothing at first, and returned his steady black gaze to his destination. He looked so focused, and she didn’t want to interrupt him, but there was something urgent she had to tell him before he went off and killed himself. But he finally spoke, only launching her idea.

“I’m going off on my own again. Don’t worry about what happens to me, all right?”

Kokoro wasn’t too mortified by this idea – she knew that Keith was very selfless, but somehow she always have to argue with him.

“I might die, you know,” he told her, before she could say anything.

“You won’t die,” she asserted, sending out the first sentence that came to her mind. “You know I need you. You will live your life how you’re supposed to. You won’t die. You will live.”

He didn’t respond. The argument was shorter than she thought it would be, but at least she had told him that. Somehow her throat was empty of words now, and she couldn’t think of anything to say. Maybe it would be better to tone down the conversation a bit.

“If anything, I’m the one who will die. I don’t know how to fight, fly fast or create a diversion. All I can do is act on instinct, and I won’t have any defense. But I don’t matter. You will live, whether you have me or not. I’m not important, or required or anything. Just another bird who’s afraid of her own friend…”

She didn’t look over, but she could sense that he was clenching his beak. And she definitely didn’t know why – Keith was always hard to figure out, and even though she was often told that she was intuitive she could seldom figure out what was on his mind. Was he frustrated, or angry at her? She would be able to justify him being angry, since she had basically just said that she didn’t matter. But frustrated was a different story… if he wanted to, couldn’t he just attack her or something? He was a far better fighter than she was. He should be the one taking on the combat job, not her. Not to give him all the blame or anything…

This was definitely a confusing situation. And she had most likely set it up herself. Finally, something came to her mind, but Keith said it first.

“Let’s just both make it out of here alive, all right?”

She couldn’t argue with that. There was no conversation beyond that point, only silence. She didn’t feel like speaking much, and it was probably a lot like he felt most of the time, since he never spoke very loud. Silently, she agreed to that, but she didn’t want to draw away from Keith. Like him, she wanted to be alone, except she wasn’t truly alone anymore. She never was. She hadn’t always had Keith, and he did make a big difference, but there really is no such thing as “alone,” is there?

--

Clarence instantly knew that they wouldn’t be heading through the Uncharted Lands. He didn’t recognize this territory at all, but he was sure that he had seen the stone walls on the way out. Then again, they would logically surround the Fortress, of course skipping the side that was already obstructed by the ocean. This detour gave him more of an opportunity to explore, but all the exploring was filled with the impending sense of death that Clarence knew would lead to the loss of many human lives, even if it was only many compared to the rest of the town. He should focus on exploring now, shouldn’t he? Even if it was a little… sinister?

Oh, well. It was still exploring, wasn’t it? It would be best if he took this time to know his surroundings, and take in the views this flight had to offer.

This was probably an extension of the Darkened Plains, since there were still no trees in sight, except for maybe on the far horizon, where those smudges were…

So was the land beyond here fertile enough to support a forest? Would the band of birds have to cross another forest? Was this where they would pick up most of their additional recruits?

Slowly he drew closer to the smudges, but his eagle eyes gradually let them come into focus. At first he was sure they were trees, but now that he had a good glance at them they seemed far too… square, for lack of a better word. And their height varied too much. Something was terribly wrong with these trees. Or were they even trees at all? They could be rocks, or mountains. But mountains weren’t shaped like that, were they? How strange. Maybe they were just really tall rocks.

Instead of focusing on the horizon, Clarence wanted to look down, but a sudden gust of wind forced him farther to the right than he would have liked, and he almost rammed into another bird. He didn’t have time to apologize before the breeze died down again, and he sank below his previous level, into a section of the flock that was considerably less crowded. From here he could see the delicate grasses better, but instead of watching them he angled himself so that he could focus on what was farther to the west. It was probably a fringe of the Uncharteds, due to its rose-colored hue … but it appeared to be made of a lot more rock than sand, and the rose quickly faded to a dark ebony color. This was definitely something he didn’t see every day. But then again, he didn’t fly around every day.

Speaking of every day, he had only been a bird for just over a week now. It seemed like hardly that amount of time, if that long. Somehow time had flown, almost like a bird himself. Why was his destiny approaching so fast?

The landscape below sped by, and the confusing formations on the horizon drifted closer. Their shape and detail became clearer to Clarence. Almost all of them were a dark silvery color, with lighter latticework threaded through them. About half of them had sharp corners that formed ninety-degree angles, shaping them into rectangular prisms. The others had strange spires on the top, making them look like some eerie, artificial tree.

Clarence suddenly shivered, and he dropped even more in his flight. These were human buildings! They were approaching a city filled to the brim with humans to kill. No doubt this would be a disaster – Clarence fears had come true. More likely than not, this rebellion would soon turn into an all-out war.
__________________

Why would anyone want to turn back time? There’s no meaning in regret. No point in thinking about things I could have done. Because there’s no guarantee that any decision is the right one.
-Ryunosuke, Wild Adapter 6


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Old 11-19-2010, 11:06 PM
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Mad MOAI Mad MOAI is offline
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Default Re: mM's NaNoWriMo - Clarence's Jacket (title subject to change)

-Chapter Thirteen: Destruction

Clarence flew unnaturally slowly from then on. His mind was telling him to fly fast and just get it over with, but his body wasn’t cooperating. Maybe because flying there faster would only make him a target, but it would warn against other birds if the humans were smart enough to perceive his meaning. They probably wouldn’t be smart enough, so staying behind would be the best idea. It would keep him from getting scolded as much, by either Melinda or the nameless macaw that seemed to be both her voice in absence and her companion.

The macaw’s vivid shape flew steadily at the helm of the group. No bird was ahead of it, and against the bright sets of plumage of the countless parrots, Clarence could recognize Seraneth. Her fiery accents and black feathers easily stood out against other parrots’ vibrant tints of every color imaginable. He didn’t want to talk to her that much, but he was relieved to see at least one familiar bird in the crowd.

Where in the world were Ava and Rhys? There were too many blue and white birds in the flock to pick them out, and doubtlessly other birds of these colors had joined in since the flock of avians left the Fortress.

Clarence told himself to search for them after the rebellion. All too fast, the buildings were drawing nearer…
I don’t want to do this…

…And then he was upon them.

The miasma of birds swerved around human structures, dodging the obstacles like short shrubs. About fifty birds broke off from the cloud and hurled themselves into a prism-shaped, important looking building that was almost purely made of windows. There was a showy thing on the top of one of its walls that looked like some sort of logo, although Clarence had lost his ability to read and so couldn’t figure out what it said.

The group of birds shattered the windows with their bodies, some cut and bleeding after the maneuver, Nevertheless, they disappeared into the darkness, flying strong and talons ready no matter how much red was striped over their feathers.

Clarence tried not to focus on that first attack. There would be more, and the humans didn’t expect them. This was sort of unfair.

Slowly, several small groups of birds made incursions into the other tall, important-looking buildings, surely set in mind to show no mercy to the species that was capable of assumably destroying anything.

Yet the main flock never seemed to shrink in terms of population. Corvids and street-birds appeared out of nowhere and joined the rebellion, as if the nearby fighting let off hypnotizing radio waves that possessed their minds to aid in the massacre.

Clarence attempted to keep his eyes on the leading macaw, but flashes of movement and blurred colors constantly echoed at his peripheral vision. He knew all too well what was going on beyond his eyes, and he did his best to ignore it, but fear and anxiety was poisoning his mind and making him too aware of his surroundings.

The macaw led the group around an obstructing building, and then what was obviously their destination came into view. Clarence was mortified – the flock set a straight course towards a huge bronze-colored skyscraper layered with black windows. The skyscraper was clearly packed with people, some working and some indulging in casual leisure.

Clarence frantically glanced down – couldn’t they just pick individuals off the streets instead of assaulting huge croups? Then again, if they did that Lady Melinda’s goal wouldn’t be achieved so quickly. These birds were too smart for their own good.

Clarence couldn’t think of anything to do other than follow along. If he did something out of line, then he would most likely be in deep trouble. If he told other birds that he was acting on instinct by saving humans, though, he might be a little looser in his punishment. Still, the objective was to eradicate the human species, not preserve it.

Why was this so hard?! He wasn’t a human anymore! He should be able to kill them, but he couldn’t. He just wouldn’t take a wasted life. If he was going to target humans as food for some strange reason, it might be a different story, but these birds were killing the humans for the sake of causing the overly clever species to go extinct. It was a pointless cause in Clarence’s opinion.

Before he could think about anything else, he noticed the macaw tuck in its wings for some reason. Was it going to fall to the streets below or dive on some unsuspecting human? In a second, it had shot through a window of the bronze skyscraper, shattering a large section of glass with its broad body. Before he had time to think about what he was getting into, Clarence mimicked the movement, dropping through the barely sufficient opening like a missile that was reluctant to explode.

As soon as he was inside the building, he raised his wings again and flew out of the way of the window just as another bird crashed through. It wasn’t one he recognized, but he followed it with his eyes, over the rough white carpet that covered the floor of this room. And in the room, desks were unorganized, papers were everywhere, and humans were crowding on the opposite wall to get away from the unimaginable horde of birds.

Clarence couldn’t make out the emotions on the humans’ faces. Reading feelings fro anything other than birds had slipped from his mind. He couldn’t even tell if they were afraid, annoyed or amused. They were definitely not amused, though, because the human Clarence was watching was suddenly tackled by two black corvids, and a whirling mass of feathers ensued. Clarence had to turn his gaze away, though he could hear the corvids screeching, and the sound of clumsy human hands on fragile bird bodies filled the room. Clarence didn’t want to be one of those birds being crushed by human hands, but he couldn’t just sit here and do nothing! With an exasperated, indecisive shout, he launched himself forward along the ground, reaching out with his talons. He wasn’t aiming for any human in particular. But he was struck with fear as he approached them, and beat his wings in preparation to parry their potentially fatal blows. He couldn’t feel his talons – all he knew was that he was dodging around them and trying to avoid getting attacked. He wasn’t conscious of what he was doing, exactly, other than making wild movements and hurting in his side. He swerved away from the cluster of humans finally, landing himself carefully on an unstable desk and draping his wings onto the flat surface. He inspected his left side – there was spot where his feathers looked a little different. It appeared as if a human had punched him in the side. He didn’t feel that anything was broken, since he could still move everything properly, but it was better to be on the safe side and avoid injuries like this from now on.

He lifted his head and stared at the humans, his breathing slightly ragged but steady. Some lay still on the ground, but they were far outnumbered by the shrieking flock of birds of different shapes, sizes and colors who were practically tearing their numbers apart.

Then a command, presumably from the macaw, resounded from somewhere on the far side of the room.

“All birds to the elevator shaft if you can fly! If you can’t –“

The rest of the last sentence was lost in the echoes of the shaft. Clarence didn’t have to ask to find out which shaft the macaw was talking about; birds were pouring into the rightmost column, creating the look of a darkened waterfall filled with death.

Clarence glanced at the cluster of humans fleetingly, and then decided that it would be better if he just left them alone. Not a lot looked alive, either. Then again, were there any even standing up?

Stop thinking about this! he shouted mentally, and practically kicked himself down the opening to the elevator shaft.

The walls on the inside of the shaft were a dull tan color streaked with brown, and they looked aged. But where was the elevator? Clarence didn’t want to be smashed against the ceiling. He looked down, hesitating below the entrance to the shaft. Birds were diving down through it, and he should probably follow them. But where was the eleator? Judging from the noise, it should be …

Clarence didn’t come close to daring to look up. He immediately propelled himself downward and tucked his wings in. Letting himself fall, he listened for announcement of an exit.

But instead of the irritating screech of the lowering elevator, he heard the macaw shout something to the effect of “Follow me!” Clarence’s hearing was slightly impaired by the wind of falling, through, and he barely got the gist of the yelled command. He opened only the tips of his wings, not enough to slow his fall but enough to have a chance to steady himself if he needed too. He couldn’t hear the elevator as much now, but he didn’t want to slow down. He at least knew that cables that regulated direction and speed secured all safe elevators. To avoid damage, he assumed that elevators didn’t fall at the full force at which gravity wanted to take them. It was a logical assumption, but for now he was right.

How far was it until the bottom of the shaft, anyway?

He caught up to the flock within a couple of seconds, but just as he did, a terrible rumbling and shrieking noise echoed from somewhere above him.

“In!’ called the macaw, although Clarence couldn’t be entirely sure if he had heard it right. The colorful bird curved to the side, and disappeared into some sort of opening in the left wall.

Clarence was frightened by the idea of executing this maneuver, but he was even more frightened by the idea of being smashed by a falling elevator, so he couldn’t stay in the shaft. If he was hearing things right, the elevator had been given more than enough slack, and was hurtling down the shaft like an oversized Demoned-bird following them in the massacre – except this one wasn’t only killing any human occupants; it would crush any birds still in the shaft beneath it. Thanks to the macaw, though, the birds apparently had an escape route.

Clarence, now at least fairly familiar with the mechanics of flight, lifted the tip of his right wing. The air currents in the shaft were weak and almost nonexistent, but even a small one wold help. He banked to the left on a minuscule updraft, and instantly worried that he would ram into the wall with the same effect of being struck by a falling elevator, but a white beacon shined against the sickly tone of the wall, and he slowed himself as he arrived safely in another room… still packed with humans. Clarence was relieved that he wouldn’t be flattened like a pancake, but now more humans would die.

For a split second, the noise of the loose elevator intensified, and Clarence cringed as it blurred past the open elevator shaft. He had fallen the fastest, but as far as he knew he was the last one out, so no birds would die in the shaft. The elevator passed in a jiffy, and a different cloud of birds burst through the door to the elevator shaft. The group had quite a few large parrots mixed in with the other birds of duller colors. Had the parrots taken a long time to turn the cables loose somehow? He didn’t think they would be able to slice through the intentionally sturdy cables, but maybe if they unwound the cables instead it could free the elevator car.

Clarence jumped into the air again, trying to evade the constant missiles of birds coming down from somewhere higher in the shaft. As soon as the stream began, it seemed to be over. Clarence followed the birds out through some sort of window that slid to the side. He flew through he blank space that had previously been occupied by the glass panel, over some sort of really small suspended section of artifical floor, and then he was over the city again. He thought that he would just be retracing his wingbeats, but he followed as the group turned a bit to the right, revealing an entirely different portion of the city. Broken glass was everywhere, and birds flew between buildings as if casually embarking on an everyday errand. Even though the war was far from over, it was still an intense scene of destruction. Although Clarence searched with his eyes, what mystified him was that there were very few corpses in view. He guessed that most of them were either hidden in the buildings, or next to no birds had died in the first place. Clarence couldn’t decide which scenario was worse.

He could do nothing other than follow the oversized flock. He didn’t have enough spare willpower to act completely on his own anymore.

Then he spotted Ava and Rhys. They glided ahead, smiled back at him, and then hung for a little so that they could be with their older brother.

Ava beckoned him with one of her talons and sank below the heavily populated flock into a more sparse area. Apparently she was going to tell them something that should be kept only between them.

Clarence lowered himself below the crowded air and slipped a little closer to Ava.

“Hello again,” he said joyfully. He lowered his voice and then inquired, “What is it you need to tell me?”

“Hi, Clarence.” She had returned the greeting, but now she wouldn’t be casual. “This isn’t good. Lots of humans are dying, but we’ve barely lost any birds. At this rate who knows how far we could get before we lose enough of our forces to retreat? We need to –“

“I forgot to study!” Clarence interjected, recalling the test preparation assignment from biology. “But that doesn’t matter.”

Ava looked like she was about to speak, but Rhys cut in, much to her irritation.

“We can’t stop them, but if we don’t injure the humans too much, there would basically be three fewer birds in the army.”

“But then they would just die slower and suffer longer,” Ava pointed out.

“Good point.”

“So what do we do?” Clarence asked, slightly anxious.

“I’m out of ideas,” lamented Ava, flitting her wings like a butterfly.

“Same here,” agreed Rhys.

Clarence groaned. “What happens if we just fly away?”

“Melinda will be all over us when she finds us! Her birds will be everywhere, you know.”

“That could complicate things,” said Rhys. “We can’t fight much.”

“I don’t fight,” Ava reminded him. “I’m too small and fast.”

“Exactly!” Rhys exclaimed, drifting sharply to the right.

Clarence shushed him, and also curved to starboard to stay with the flock. “Not so loud. Aren’t we trying to be discreet?”

“Uh, yeah, sorry.” Rhys laughed nervously.

“So we just go along with it and hope it turns out all right?” Clarence questioned.

“Like that will happen. All the humans are gonna die.”

Clarence exhaled slowly. He honestly hdad no idea what to do other than stand by and watch one of the most expansive species of the world go extinct. Maybe he could fly away, but he would eventually be scolded by Melinda – or worse. He couldn’t flee forever.

He was slightly startled as the flock swerved downward and landed shortly on the ground. He barely had time to extend his talons before he came in contact with the ground. He beat his wings slowly and then withdrew them to his sides, scanning the flock for a hint of what he was supposed to be doing. As Ava descended beside him, she commented, “Wow, there’s a cool pattern on your back. It looks like that jacket you used to have…”

Clarence wondered why she hadn’t noticed it before. He instinctively turned his head to look to his back as far as it would go. Nostalgia hit him hard in the head as he remembered the cape-like jacket he had always worn as a human. Now it was permanently adorned on his plumage…

No. Now Clarence was sure he didn’t want to be a human. They were the victims of too many wars; they had too many negative options in their lives. They didn’t have the freedom of being inhuman. Too many things bound humans. Not only did emotion, avarice, regret, and others bind them, but unlike birds gravity bound them. They were stuck with their feet permanently to a supporting surface. They had no wings; they were sluggish in movement; they were too heavy. Birds were often thought to be free creatures, and there was no error to that philosophy. Gravity did not bind birds, whether mentally or physically. Birds may not have the power to create, but they had the power to fly.

And they had built-in jackets. Clarence was even more representative of that fact, in the sense that the pattern on a jacket he had possessed when he was a human was emblazoned on his back when he was a bird. Clarence did not want to lose his embodiment of all that humans thought a bird was, and somehow becoming a human again would make him lose that. And he would have to take off his jacket from time to time as well. As a bird, he could keep his pattern vibrant with just a few runs of his beak through his plumage. Being a bird definitely had advantages.

Then a loud squawk (Clarence assumed it was from the macaw) sounded from somewhere above him, and he jerked his head upward. Sure enough, the large parrot was perched on a nearby intact lamppost. Clarence immediately fell silent, knowing that some sort of announcement was going to come next. As he glanced up, he noticed that the sky was just beginning to turn a light violet color. It was drawing slowly closer to dusk. The birds were probably going to settle in for the night soon.

“Listen up,” called the macaw. “As your instincts are telling you, it is time to settle down for the night.” It raised its left wing and looked very diplomatic. “Our navigators have chosen a corner not frequented by the humans, so we will be safe for the night. Nevertheless, a few birds will take shifts staying awake for about one hour watching for humans. Yell loud if they’re going to attack us. The first birds on this shift will be Clarence and me. The rest are free to go.”

The birds immediately broke into casual-sounding chatter. Clarence fluffed; he hadn’t expected to be picked for the first shift, but at least he wouldn’t lose too much sleep. He watched the macaw as it flew down to him, and started strutting like a chicken.

“So where should I watch from?” Clarence questioned, and the macaw stopped swaggering.

“Just perch somewhere high and make sure nobody’s looking to hurt us,” said the macaw, lowering its head. “I’m sure you can do it with your eagle eyes, Clarence.”

“Uh, yes sir!” Clarence exclaimed, straightening himself. “I’ll be back down here in an hour.”

“That works.” The macaw lifted off and disappeared over the roof of a nearby cube-shaped building.

Clarence blinked after the macaw, and then took to the air himself. He rode an updraft to a gooseneck-type lamppost, beating his wings to steady himself on the unusually small perch. It was smooth and silver, hindering his grip; he had to lock his ankles tight to keep himself from slipping off.
He scanned the darkened streets with his sharp vision. The daylight hadn’t faded yet, but more time had passed than he thought. Flying around and having adventures involving falling elevators took up a lot of his day, and it was an exciting way to pass the time as well.

But it was also dangerous. Sitting up here watching for movement wasn’t dangerous, as long as the light didn’t shock him somehow, or it fell over and he couldn’t get off in time. But that was unlikely, so he would stick with guard duty for now.

He scanned the area below, and his heart sank. Windows were vandalized and broken, human activity had entirely disappeared, and any lights still on were dim. All sorts of small objects were knocked over, if birds were capable of doing such things to them. It looked like a town that had been in the fringes of a war zone, and that was just about what it was – except it was a portion of an entire city. Due to the absence of humans at all, he guessed that the city had been abandoned or the people outside hadn’t heard of the attack. Hopefully it was the former; if the humans had had a chance to get out, it meant they could settle in somewhere else where the birds would not find them. At least for a while…

Clarence didn’t want to simply perch here and do nothing. He wanted to fly, and experience the bliss of being inhuman. He leaped into the air, ascending to a point where his toes wouldn’t drag against the top of the lamppost.

Unlike others who might be Demoned-birds, he didn’t want to go back to being human. He had only been a bird for just over a week, but he already preferred it to living in a world of strife, fighting, and terrible creation. Sure, there were lots of positive sides, but finally looking at things from a bird’s point of view would make him feel guilty if he switched forms again. The humans did too many bad things to other creatures, and they didn’t even realize it. But it wasn’t really the bad things they were doing; it was the lack of things they were doing at all. Besides, Clarence didn’t want to live knowing that he’d have experienced something nobody had ever known – flight. He wouldn’t be happy if he returned to his human life, and he was stuck on the ground, forced to succumb to gravity every day. There were just so many things he could do now that he couldn’t do before.

He pumped his wings a few times experimentally. The crowd of birds was a blot of ink below him on the ruined page of a story that an author had decided to scrap. Clarence rose higher, and for some reason he felt as if he was accomplishing something. He should just rise, and forget all this … but his siblings would miss him. He would stay with them, and guide them through life. After all, he was their older brother.

He kept a watchful eye on the crumbling streets below. He couldn’t hear anything other than a somber wind, and nothing was moving other than the cluster of birds far beneath him. He couldn’t rise much higher, or he wouldn’t be able to keep guard over them.

Of all places, the first movement he noticed was in the sky. At first he thought it was an abnormally fast cloud, but then he noticed that some of the white was fringed with his black. It was a swallow-tailed kite, but from this distance he couldn’t be sure it was Keith. Then again, what other swallow-tailed kite did he know?

Curiously, he glanced back down at the grey scenery, and then directed his attention back to the kite. It was performing dangerous-looking aerial maneuvers, although if it looked like it was going to dive towards something hard it would pull up into a sort of stall. Clarence didn’t know if he could manage it – his body wasn’t built the same way as a kite’s.

He didn’t know whether this bird would be hostile or not – he wasn’t even sure if it was Keith. As he drew nearer, he noticed that it was a different size than a male kite. He couldn’t tell whether it was bigger or smaller, since his memory was a little fuzzy from the rebellion.


He opened his beak and called calmly, hoping that he wouldn’t frighten the kite. He did get its attention, though – it glanced in his direction and paused its aerial acrobatics, coming as close as it could to hovering as he approached.

“Sorry for the interruption,” he apologized. “Your flight capabilities are amazing.”

“Do I remind you of someone you know?” the kite asked. Its voice sounded somewhere in the higher octave, indicating that it was female.

“That’s right,” said Clarence, turning his circular path in the other direction.

“Is it Keith?”

He hesitated. So far this kite was pretty much reading his mind and getting right to the point. Was he just being too predictable?

“I’m taking that as a yes,” said the female kite spontaneously. “There isn’t any other swallow-tailed kite here who comes from the fortress, excluding me.”

“It is indeed a yes,” Clarence told her. “But it’s not much other than that. Are you his sister or something?”

“Not quite,” replied the kite. “But that would be nice. It would complicate a few things, though.”

“Um, out of curiosity, why are you up here by yourself?”

“Keith went off on his own again. I wanted to get some fresh air in my wings, so I’m practicing my evading maneuvers.”

Clarence was a bit puzzled. Why would it matter where Keith went? “You can continue now,” he told her. “Goodbye for now. I need to go keep watch.”

He rotated himself towards the lamppost, tucked in his wings slightly, and descended. This kite appeared to have some sort of relationship with Keith, but how far would she go to annihilate him – or protect him?
__________________

Why would anyone want to turn back time? There’s no meaning in regret. No point in thinking about things I could have done. Because there’s no guarantee that any decision is the right one.
-Ryunosuke, Wild Adapter 6


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Old 11-19-2010, 11:53 PM
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Default Re: mM's NaNoWriMo - Clarence's Jacket (title subject to change)

-Chapter Fourteen: Keeping Watch

Clarence’s fiery brown eyes ruthlessly scanned the street below – again. It had been a few hours since he had kept watch last, but the moderately sized rotation of birds had come full circle, and it was the macaw’s and his turn to guard the flock again. The group of birds itself was large; if each had adequate space to preen or rest, the flock took up an unnaturally large portion of the wide street. The road was fairly clean, too – it could possibly have been recently washed by rain (hopefully not by any disgusting chemicals).

Clarence turned in a circle on his lamppost. He noticed that it was fairly low, but the perch would probably do. Then again, he couldn’t see much around the corners of the buildings surrounding the group of birds, so it would be better to find somewhere higher to sit. He cast himself onto a small updraft of air and headed towards a simple geometric building, seemingly made of nothing more than a cube painted a somber blue. As he lowered himself in preparation for an upward landing swoop, he watched the jagged black spaces where rows of windows had once been. Doubtless there was broken glass all over the floor of that building, unless for some reason one of those humans with brooms had come to clean it up. But this part of the city was just about abandoned, and might be called the outskirts at this point.

Clarence gripped the edged wall tightly with his talons, narrowly avoiding injuring the soles of his feet on the sharp-cornered surface. As he stabilized himself he remembered the wound on his side, and winced. In a somewhat cursory manner, he raised his wing and lowered his head to examine the rib area. He preened through the black feathers and the soft white ones underneath, straightening out those that were bent and plucking the few that had been practically crushed and were just about useless. According to the condition of his plumage, there was a bruise somewhere under his skin from when he had been punched, but his ribs were thankfully intact. He would have to treat his side gently until it healed.

He heard feathers ruffling from somewhere behind him, and lifted his head. At first he thought Keith was approaching, but the difference in size and pattern of the bird suggested that it was the female kite from before.

The kite perched next to him on the subdued wall, and appeared somewhat breathless, as if she had hurried to get here.

“Something wrong?” he asked, slightly puzzled as to what could be so urgent.

“Your name is Clarence, right?” she inquired. “You said you were keeping guard, right?”

He narrowed his eyes slightly. “Yes, why do you ask? Does the macaw guy who leads this place need me for something?”

“Not the macaw. If you’re that same Clarence, then … I just remembered something that might be really important to you.”

“What is it?” Clarence relaxed his brow and shuffled on his perch a little.

The kite looked like she wanted to take a deep breath but was in too much of a hurry to do so. “I know your mother! I don’t think you do, but I do!”

Clarence froze with shock. Of all the memories that could pierce his freedom like a sharpened spear, it was the one from his childhood, back when he was a human. He barely remembered, but his mother had suddenly disappeared overnight when he was just over ten years old. Ava and Rhys were probably a little too young to recall the incident, but they might still have it in their minds.

“My … mother … How do you know?” he fluffed his feathers, which had finally ceased their surprised coagulating.

“I met her once, a long time before you were here, about four years ago, just after the first rebellion,” rambled the kite. “She kept talking about you and two others… at first I assumed you were birds, but …”

“Rhys and Ava?” Clarence questioned quickly. “But that couldn’t be my mother. She disappeared six years ago, not four.”

The kite paused. “Then she was probably that refugee-type harpy eagle that had been retrieved two years before. Melinda didn’t want to incorporate her into the Fortress so soon before the previous rebellion, so she was sent to live at a smaller fortress until the flock returned.”

“A harpy eagle …” Clarence breathed. He hadn’t exactly studied them in-depth before, but if he remembered correctly they were one of the biggest types of eagles. She was probably bigger than him!

“Yes,” said the kite. “I know where she is!”

“Take me,” said Clarence hastily.”

“No need to ask,” she told him, and turned around before taking to the air.

Clarence lifted off behind her, doing his best to keep up with her aerobatic flying style. His was more direct but still slower, although he was still pretty sure of the destination. It was a tall, irregularly shaped building with a sort of spire on the top. Perched atop the spire was an abnormally large bird, presumably the harpy eagle. It was mainly white on the front and black on the top, and there was a thick dark stripe circling its neck. Its wings were topped with a dark, sooty gray, which transitioned to stripes on its primaries.

Clarence was about to call out to the eagle, but a flash of movement from below caught his eye. He glanced down, and immediately screeched in panic. A group of thirty or so humans was heading towards the flock of thousands of birds, and almost all of the humans were equipped with a weapon of some sort. A few had knives, but most had guns. And Clarence had just alerted them to his presence with the panicked screech.

“Go!” he shouted at the kite. “Get my mother and come back here! But don’t get shot!”

The kite seemed baffled, but nevertheless she propelled herself in the direction of the eagle.

Clarence shoved himself forward and down, towards the flock. He kept his flight pattern as erratic and non-repetitive as possible to avoid the bursts of noise and steel that trailed behind him menacingly.

“Why are you shooting for me, you idiots!” he yelled, although he knew that the humans couldn’t understand him. “There’s a big group of targets around the corner waiting to kill you off! I suggest aiming for them!”

His wailing was enough of a siren. Almost all of the flock immediately stopped what they were doing and flew in Clarence’s direction, although they didn’t adjust their altitude much. It was clear that they were heading straight for the humans, apparently fearless of the dangerous weapons their opponents possessed. Maybe they didn’t care. Or perhaps they believed that their beaks and talons were superior to human technology. Clarence wanted to avoid a fight, though; he wanted to live to see his mother.

But if he ignored these humans, they could kill his mother instead of him. He shouted confidently and launched himself downward behind the cover of more valiant birds. He extended his hooked bill at a random pair of ankles and tore at them as he swooped past. As far as he knew he had only caused a flesh wound, but he was reluctant to kill right now. He wanted to restrict those humans so that they could not hurt his mother. His newfound parent, alongside his younger brother and sister, gave him a family to protect and take care of. It still didn’t justify taking lives that much, but he could weaken the lives just as well.

Clarence suddenly pulled upward, and somehow ended up with a knife’s handle in his talons. The human who apparently had previously been wielding it was shouting angrily up at Clarence and gesturing to another human as if it wanted its ally’s rifle. Carefully Clarence dropped the knife, avoiding aiming for birds and instead letting the stainless steel clatter on the pavement meters away from its previous bearer. Hopefully it wouldn’t take any more lives before it eventually crumbled to dust.

Blurring closer, Clarence noticed the harpy eagle and the female kite approach the scene.

“Mother, stay back!” he ordered, sliding far to the right to stay out of the humans’ aim. “Wait until it’s safe!”

Apparently the harpy eagle was indeed his mother, because she suddenly stopped in her trajectory and spun in a different direction. As Clarence rose to keep his path somewhat erratic, he was satisfied to watch her take cover on the roof of a building.

“I got this,” he called to her, and then dove sharply down. He would have to pull up again before he smacked into the pavement, but that wasn’t an impossible maneuver. He was confident this time that he could manage it. It wasn’t like a week ago when he had next to no idea how to fly. He wasn’t a human anymore – he was an African black eagle. He would not turn his back.

Clarence screamed triumphantly and dived at the humans with his talons. In that instant, he angled his wings and pumped, rising on a convenient pillar of air and slipping forward to avoid being in the range of their rifles and the possibility of their knives being thrown. What happened if he plunged from a higher altitude? Would he intimidate them enough that they would flee, or would they have to wait to be killed off by the other birds? Either way, it would be fun to try the falling.

Clarence focused on ascending for now. He constantly flapped his wings, keeping his direction as close to vertical as possible. He frequently switched air currents to keep himself rising, and to stay away from the humans’ guns and knives. His shoulders were getting sore from frequent flying, but what drove him was the urge to protect his family, and the birds. He didn’t oppose the humans entirely, but he was on the bird side now. He would stay loyal to the birds, but not quite to the extent of killing off every human in sight.

However, he would do his best to scare them away to somewhere at which the others could do the dirty work for him. He wanted to be feared by humans, but not for killing them. Just for his flight.

He wanted to fly. That was all. Not to fight, but to fly.

There’s an expression in human speech where, if someone gets into a physical battle or a problem, they can choose “fight or flight.” Here, in Clarence’s mind, fighting was not the answer. Birds were made to fly, and he would keep to that devotion. Birds were not made to fight.

Clarence didn’t look down. He kept his eyes on the darkening sky, on the subdued silver clouds that signaled dusk’s arrival. The sky was growing blue, but he would leave his dark silhouette there for everyone to see. And then, like a bomb that was set never to go off, he would drop, valiant in a different way than the birds who earned their fame by killing.

He must not think of Keith now. Keith was only a small part of his driving force. This was for the sake of birds and living things. He must not oppose Keith, who had apparently earned his reputation by fighting.

Finally, after what seemed like an hour of rising into the sky, he dared to look down again. He spread his wings and stabilized himself on a slower current to examine what was beneath him. The scene of violence was far below him, too far than he had thought. But, unlike a human, he wasn’t frightened at all by the concept of height. He was thrilled and freed. This was his chance to run away and forget all of this, but he could not leave. He could not leave his mother, his brother and sister, or friends he had made in the past week. Corvus, Nightmare, and that female kite were under his protection. (The only reason Keith wasn’t on that list was because he was clearly capable of fighting for himself.)

As a cloud scooted in below him, Clarence did something he would not be able to believe if he was still a human.

Clarence inhaled deeply, overbalanced forward, and dropped.
__________________

Why would anyone want to turn back time? There’s no meaning in regret. No point in thinking about things I could have done. Because there’s no guarantee that any decision is the right one.
-Ryunosuke, Wild Adapter 6


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Old 11-20-2010, 01:27 AM
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Default Re: mM's NaNoWriMo - Clarence's Jacket (title subject to change)

-Chapter Fifteen: Protect

The wind rushed by his face faster than it ever had before. Clarence didn’t care. He was falling. And he would fall for many seconds until he finally pulled up, hopefully shoving the humans aside to where they wouldn’t bother the birds again. But most of all, he would enjoy the thrill of flight, and falling, what were often considered two of the world’s opposite. However, the real opposite to flight was binding.

Clarence tucked his wings in, but kept his muscles poised. He would let himself descend as fast as possible, and he would pull up at the last safe moment. He anticipated that the humans would not expect this maneuver, and would do something along the lines of running away screaming (although maybe not as exaggerated). But he didn’t know what they would do until he executed the maneuver.

The slate blue sky blurred by past him, the stars invisible in the motion. Cold air stung his eyes, but he didn’t close them. The wind bit at his body, but his feathers warded off most of the attack. He would resist the physics that birds were supposed to obey for as long as possible. And then he would return to flight. Even now, as he was falling, gravity did not truly bind him. He could curve up whenever he wanted, but he didn’t want to, not yet.

One second. Two seconds. Three seconds. The ground zoomed closer. He could see Keith, a white shape of black and white, swinging his talons at the humans as if he was really using a sword. Clarence couldn’t read his expression from this distance, but he had the feeling that Keith’s face was fixed into an uneasily calm countenance. Keith seemed completely devoid of emotion at times.

Five seconds. Six seconds. Seven seconds.

After a fall lasting twelve seconds, Clarence extended just the tips of his wings, and landed right on top of an air current that carried him in a curved path. He could not read the humans’ expressions, nor did he witness their faces. He had turned up too fast to see much. As he began rising again, he spread his wings out, and let himself descend at a slow pace. The humans had dashed backwards in an attempt to flee the dropping rocket of a bird. A few had smacked into walls or similar objects and knocked themselves out, if not injured their heads. Clarence couldn’t tell if any of them were dead, but he guessed that the flock of birds from the fortress would be taking no chances. The birds would probably wait until all the life had leaked out of every last human to leave this city and move onto another. But it was only a matter of time.

But Clarence would not wait until the humans were dead. Now he would bring Ava and Rhys to meet his mother. Their mother. And most of all, he would keep the flight alive.

He steadied himself on the current, and landed at what seemed like triple-slow speed on the roof of a nearby building. It was the building where his mother had hidden, and hopefully watched him dive towards the humans for the sake of diving, not for the sake of killing.

“Mother?” he said, hoping that she would appear. Almost immediately, she came out from behind a sort of metal pillar, and slowly hopped towards him.

“That’s you, Clarence, right?” his mother asked. Now Clarence could remember her voice from his youth…

“Yes, it’s me,” he told her. “I am Clarence, and I need an awesome title, but I can’t think of one.”

As he opened his beak and exhaled, he realized how exhilarated he was from the fall. It excited him and gave him a rather bouncy attitude, and he didn’t remind himself of the human Clarence at all.

“Hey, Mom, remember that jacket you got me?” he inquired, but before he gave her a chance to answer he turned his back to her and spread his wings, turning his head far to the side so that she could see his bronze-colored right eye. “Do you think this was a coincidence?” He gave her what he hoped was a bird grin, although it might have been difficult to tell because birds didn’t have teeth.

His mother gave him a laugh, but she didn’t answer in much of a different way. Contrary to what he had first thought, he was looking down on her by a little – he estimated that he was just above three feet tall, while she was just under that. He had never expected to be bigger than one of his own parents.

He turned his head briefly away from her, and called into the endless night, “Ava! Rhys! Come here! I’ve found our mother!”

“Hello again, Clarence,” she told him. “Sorry for leaving you. I got this eagle body and had to get out of the house. But enough about me – how in the world are you a bird?”

“Same way as you,” he responded. “It’s better than being a human, in my opinion. But you might have a different one.”

She was silent for a minute, and then said, “Well, we’re both together, so it doesn’t really matter, now does it?”

“Not at all.”

A white gull curved over the roof and next to Clarence, and shortly after him followed Ava. Clarence withdrew his imposing wings and rotated himself to face his family again. “In fact,” he said, “we’re all together now. Except for…”

“Our father,” Rhys finished for him, barely finished stabilizing himself and pulling his wings in. “But he didn’t seem to be too happy with us back at the house, anyway.” He gave a somewhat nervous laugh.

“Your father’s seen you recently, but I haven’t,” his mother pointed out. “It would be nice if he was here, though.”

Rhys and Ava shuffled closer to Mother, but Clarence was looking around. “Where’s the black and white bird who brought you over here?”

Mother pointed with a broad wing to her left. Sure enough, the female kite was standing out of the way. As if in response, Keith instantly appeared from the other side of the roof and landed next to the female.

“Over there,” said Mother obviously. “Why, do you know them?”

“Not really,” Clarence admitted. “The bigger one is Keith. He’s supposed to fight like a swordsman. I’m not sure who the smaller one is, though. She seems to be related to him somehow.”

“Are they siblings?” Mother inquired curiously.

“The female said that would complicate things in some way,” he explained. “Those are her words, anyway. I’m not sure how it would be complicated, though, if they were brother and sister.”

“Is she his fiancée?” Mother asked spontaneously.

Clarence hesitated. He wasn’t really familiar with that concept, and had to be honest. “I don’t know.”

“That’s what it looks like.”

Clarence glanced over. The two birds were standing together, but the female was watching the conversation, and Keith was preening, apparently apathetic to what was going on.

“That’s not what the conversation is about right now,” Clarence said, and then swapped subjects. “How are you feeling about this whole rebellion thing?”

“I don’t like it,” Mother replied instantly. “But I can’t leave. They’d get their revenge on me soon.”

“I want to leave,” Clarence told her, not as much as a confession as it was a statement. “I don’t like these birds much, but I don’t want to abandon my siblings.”

“We don’t like it much either,” Ava interjected. “I’d like to leave, but I’m not sure if we could live in the same place as Clarence.”

“I don’t want to be Melinda’s underling,” Clarence said sharply, tapping a few of his talons on the rock-textured surface. “I want to leave, but I can’t!”

Rhys shrugged. “Well, a lot of people stop living with their siblings around your age. We’d definitely miss you, but we could visit once in a while, if you tell us where you’re going to live.”

“That sounds like a good idea,” Ava encouraged, “But how would we stay away from Melinda’s birds?”

“They won’t have to know we fled,” Clarence said quietly. “If we can fake our deaths we might be able to get away.”

“That’s a good plan,” Rhys said.

“I suppose I’d be traveling between you three for a while?” Mother interjected, flipping her beak through a few of her feathers.

“Uh…” Clarence blinked. He hadn’t really considered his mother, even though he had just got reunited with her.

“You’re old enough to live by yourself now, Clarence. I’m sure you could do it.”

“But what about you?” he questioned.

“I’ll be fine. Like your brother said, if you tell me where you’ll live, I can visit you.”

“Are you guys … really okay with that?” Clarence asked, surprised at the sudden conclusion of running away. But this wasn’t really running away from fear … it was following courage and independence, wasn’t it?
“We’ll meet up with you when we get a little over,” Rhys told him. “Just tell us the direction you’ll be going, and don’t meander from there.”

“I just met Mother, though! When will I see you guys again if I do leave?”

“Maybe in a month or so. We’ll wait till you’ve most likely had time to settle in…”

Clarence exhaled his stiff breath, and straightened up. “You guys are being more mature than me right now. You guys are brave. You let your older brother leave the house two years before he’s a legal adult.” He smiled at them, hooding his eyes slightly. “And you guys will wait till you’re eighteen to find your own homes, right?”

“We’ll visit you before that, though,” Ava insisted. “Just stay alive. You know how to fly, don’t you? Isn’t that really all you need?”

Clarence nodded shallowly to Ava, and then ran his eyes over the three birds gathered in front of him. “You know what to say if someone asks where I went, don’t you?”

“Don’t worry,” his mother told him. “Don’t forget, we’re your family. We can handle it.” She cocked her head and winked, her dark eyes penetrating his skull and drilling it into his mind that she was his superior and that she would take care of things.

“So you guys won’t miss me too much?” he asked. Then he paused, and requested, “Don’t forget me, okay?” He turned around again, keeping his eagle eyes on them. “Remember my jacket.”

“We won’t!” Ava chirped.

Clarence lowered his head. “Do I have to say goodbye, though...? Nightmare should be fine, but… Mother, I have a friend who can’t speak the bird language, and who knows how she would react if I just disappeared?”

“You can trust her,” she assured him. “She probably knows how to keep secrets. Do you know where your friend is?”

“No,” Clarence told her. “But don’t forget my eyes. I’m an eagle, remember? And for future reference, I’ll be heading east. I’m supposed to go somewhere with a drier climate.”

“Then we’ll head due east in a month,” said Rhys.

“What will you do until then?” Clarence inquired.

“We can stay here for a while longer. We’ll stay out of the way of danger. We won’t die on you, got that? Don’t be afraid. You’re supposed to be the big brother.”

“Right.” Clarence was reluctant to leave his siblings, but he was more reluctant to stay here and let them see him get killed in some daring flight maneuver against a human. “I’m going to go speak to Corvus. You two be good for Mother, okay?”

“We will!” Ava chirped.

Clarence nodded silently to them, and whirled around towards the flock.
__________________

Why would anyone want to turn back time? There’s no meaning in regret. No point in thinking about things I could have done. Because there’s no guarantee that any decision is the right one.
-Ryunosuke, Wild Adapter 6


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Last edited by Mad MOAI; 11-21-2010 at 06:56 PM.
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Old 11-20-2010, 01:28 AM
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Default Re: mM's NaNoWriMo - Clarence's Jacket (title subject to change)

-Chapter Sixteen: I Will Fly

It took Clarence about seven minutes of circling above the group of birds to find Corvus’s brown shape perched on a mailbox on the fringes of the flock. Fortunately the birds hadn’t damaged the lampposts, leaving a dim light cast upon the streets and allowing Clarence to watch the events unfold. But right now his business was with the crow woodpecker. It was time to say goodbye.

He intentionally made himself a loud landing as he descended to the sidewalk beside her mailbox. Immediately she noticed him, but didn’t make a noise. She stared at him intently with her black eyes, as if she was asking him what he was here for.

“Hi, Corvus,” he greeted her softly. “Can you come down here for a second? I have something important to tell you.”

She paused for a minute, but flitted down to the sidewalk without too much hesitation. She tilted her head up at him inquisitively.

“You’re not going to like this, Corvus,” he told her, “but I have to go.”

She looked downcast, but he continued, not letting his voice waver. “I’m heading somewhere east of here. I’ll be in that direction if you need me. Sorry, but I can’t stand the life of a warrior bird. There’s too much violence. I’m built to fly, Corvus.”

She seemed to brighten up, and peeped at him a few times. He knew the gist of what she was saying, although he couldn’t form the exact words from her tone alone.

“You could come with me if you wanted, as long as you like the open space and a little bit of a dry climate.”

She nodded vigorously, chirping something he couldn’t understand, as her head bobbed up and down like driftwood in the sea. From this movement, Clarence guessed that crow woodpeckers did indeed prefer open space to packed woodlands, and were satisfied with somewhat dry weather, if they didn’t prefer it to wet weather.

“Caerulea won’t miss you, will he?”

Corvus peeped loudly, shaking her head from side to side. She said something else in her row of chirps, but Clarence didn’t know what she would be saying.

“From your tone, it sounds all right if you leave. Just tell me if you get tired on the way, or find somewhere good to stay for the night.”

She nodded vigorously again, although this time she only did so once.

“All right,” Clarence sighed. “Our excursion starts now.”

Just as he always had before, he crouched down to prepare for flight. It was so familiar to him now, and he couldn’t believe that a few days prior he had been in a human’s body. Now he couldn’t imagine being such a sluggish, restricted creature.

He propelled himself into the air, constantly checking with his eyes to make sure Corvus was next to him. She wasn’t related to him, and never would be, but they would be as close as friends could get for a while.

Thoughts ran constantly through his head, and he didn’t have much of a choice other than to voice them. They were such strong beliefs, and he wanted to hold onto them forever.

“I’m not a bird who fights, and I never was. I’ve never been focused on flight much, either. But after spending a week in this body, I like this better than being human after all.”

Corvus chattered, and it sounded like she was agreeing with him, but he continued as soon as she cut off.
“Humans are restricted by gravity, emotions and greed. Birds can fly. We are freer than humans, and their analogy is true. I’m a bird now, and I’m not turning back. I’m not turning back, because my back is a symbol of my beliefs.” He paused, and turned his head to address Corvus. “You see this pattern on my back? It’s exactly the same pattern as one that was on a jacket I had when I was a human, and now it’s permanently marked on my back.”

He turned his gaze back ahead. “This jacket only means one thing. I will fly.”
__________________

Why would anyone want to turn back time? There’s no meaning in regret. No point in thinking about things I could have done. Because there’s no guarantee that any decision is the right one.
-Ryunosuke, Wild Adapter 6


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