Wind danced through the tuskar trees. It rustled their leaves, flowing in eddies around ebony-skinned trunks. It flooded up the meadows and surged into the canyons between Kezzor and Azzorim, gaining speed. Here it met the snow-smelling breezes corkscrewing down from the peaks. Moving air collided. Fighting gusts hit the canyon wall, battered upwards, and caught a tiny nicola bird in the downdraft.
Piccolo beat his wings. No, no! His stomach was full of grasshoppers and zori beetles, weighing him down. Few nicola birds came so high to feed. But he had come many times, flying fast and hard across the canyon lip. No gust had caught him before. He’d stuffed his stomach and soared around the peak, his wings streaming through the crisp air. Up here, he felt bigger than himself, stronger, wider, freer.
His throng told him he was stupid to fly so far, to risk the mountain’s variable weather. But what did they know? Maybe more than he’d given them credit for.
Piccolo’s heart pumped up and down, wild with fear. Feathers tore from his skin and whisked away. He opened his beak and felt the rage of the gusts on his tongue. He tasted snow and tuskar groves and wildflower pollen. He felt the up-rushing mountain.
Piccolo screamed, cra laa, cra laa and clapped his wings. Another gust slammed into his side and dashed him into a rock jutting from the canyon wall. He struck hard. Pain and darkness crashed over him.
Soft wind fluttered Piccolo’s feathers. He flicked out his tongue. He tasted sunshine, an alich tree, and cedari wood. And something else. Something odd. An animal smell. Salty and warm and acidic.
Human! Piccolo’s heart burst upwards, up with his wings, up to the wind and sky. He screeched and fell over. His wing couldn’t lift. It felt jagged and limp.
“Easy, easy little fellow.”
Piccolo clicked his beak and blinked. An eye as big as he was stared back at him. Ack! Piccolo gasped and tried to fly again. Soft human claws folded around him and held him.
“You’ve got a broken wing.”
There were two eyes, not just one. Piccolo saw them through the human claws holding him. Beneath the eyes was a perch-like nose, too steep to roost on. And below that were two soft red things that moved. They were the human’s beak, Piccolo guessed. When they opened, a breeze came out full of sounds more varied than the humming rhymes of baby breezes.
Cra la, said Piccolo. He shivered and tried to lift his wing. It dragged on the human claws beneath him. What would happen to him now? What would the human do to him?
The claws moved, tucking Piccolo’s broken wing against his side. Ack, that hurt!
“I’m going to try to fix it. It’s going to take a while to heal though. But don’t worry, I’ll take care of you until you’re better.”
The wind between the red beak was warm and smelled like nuts. It made Piccolo hungry. He nudged his head between the claws and stared at the beak as it moved. Were the nuts in there?
“What’s your name? Mine’s Carafolas.”
Cra ra laa, said Piccolo.
“What should I do with you?” The brown face above the eyes folded into wrinkles. It looked spongy. And above that was a bunch of brown hair, falling soft and silky. What a fine nest that stuff would make! Piccolo would have to tell the throng if he ever got back. He could add it to the list of great things he’d discovered: The fattest zori beetles, the sweetest vine flowers, the tastiest grasshoppers, and the softest stuff for nests.
Piccolo cocked his head, then dropped his beak into his feathers. He huddled himself into a ball. His wing hurt. And the throng never liked his discoveries. The fattest zori beetles were on Azzorim’s big shelf, past the giant air gusts. The vine flowers sweet with nectar grew beside a waterfall so fast it sometimes sucked birds inside and drowned them. The tastiest grasshoppers grew in an open field on Kezzor’s flank, beneath a cliff studded with falcon eyries. If he told them about human hair for nests, they’d only clack their beaks and bite him. “You’ll die if you keep this up,” they’d say, ruffling their feathers.
The human’s beak made wind and noise again.
“Want to see my canoe? I hollowed it out of a cedari log. Isn’t it beautiful? Everyone thinks I’m crazy, hauling a canoe up the mountain, but what do they know? I’ve been singing the sky down to it and weaving it over the wood. I came today to try it out. I’m a skyweaver, see? Want to sit in there with me? It won’t be the same as flying of course, but pretty good I bet. Here, let’s get in. Oh!”
The human’s claws opened and Piccolo beat his good wing as hard as he could. He gasped and smacked at the air. His feet reached forward, clamped down.
Cra! sang Piccolo in delight. The hair was amazing! He’d never felt anything so soft, except those bits of Wildergar fur he’d found in the slot canyon once.
Piccolo adjusted the bits with his beak, then settled down in the silky strands. It was strange having his perch move around underneath him, but Piccolo kind of liked it. He had a good view from up there. The meadow grass swayed and sang all around them. Just ahead, beneath the spreading boughs of an alich tree, hovered something translucent. How strange! It was like the sky, but not. It tasted of sky, wind, and human, but underneath those other layers, Piccolo whiffed cedari. A tree made into sky? How incredible. Piccolo couldn’t believe it.
His perch moved. They got inside the funny sky log.
“Ready, little bird?”
The human took a big stick and held it over the side of the log, then he swept it through the air. The log slid forward and up.
Cra, gasped Piccolo, and clenched his claws in the human’s head.
“Woo!” sang the human. “We’re floating! We’re going up. I’ll paddle some more. Here, little bird, have a nut. Sit tight. No one’s ever done this before. Think of everything we’ll see!”