Indian Summer: A Hidden Paradise (August)

Published Jul 1, 2022, 3:32:59 AM UTC | Last updated Jul 1, 2022, 3:32:59 AM | Total Chapters 3

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Collection of summer monthly challenges

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Chapter 3: A Hidden Paradise (August)

[2,565 words]
Waking up felt like a chore. The kind of chore Aktaion normally felt on a lazy morning. When he wanted nothing more than to just burrow deeper into his nest, ignorant to the world for just a few more moments.
He almost did just that. He was ready to slip back into the realm of unconsciousness, with the lull of the ocean sending him deeper and deeper into the realm of sleep and dreams and—
His eyelids felt heavy and weighted down by sleep and something coarse yet grainy.
The too-bright-light of the sun sent his mind reeling and only made the pounding in his head much worse.
(Where he nested, high up in the crags of the Nyvir Alps, the sunlight was always filtered through even the wispiest of clouds and never this bright.)
He tried for a second time and managed the smallest of squints, enough to see a swatch of blurry greenery not far off from where he lay. Between him and the trees lay a stretch of white, crystalline sand. It sparkled and shifted between an array of colors beneath the too-bright sun.
(How long had he been laying here?)
The question answered itself as he shifted a few damp feathers around, his backside being completely dry, the feathers stiff with dried seawater and the skin around his quills gritty with sand. As he shifted his weight around a bit more, he begun to feel largely uncomfortable given the weight of sand streaming through his feathers, muddying up along his damp underbelly.
(Normally this would've sent him grumbling. But this was anything but a normal circumstance.)
He surveyed his surroundings wearily as he got to his feet, a little unsteady, but nothing broken or seriously wounded besides his pride. He was a gryph, a pretty large one, and yet was sent tumbling through that storm like a fledgling full of down.
(Howling winds and blasts of lightning had carved veins throughout the blackness, threatening to crack apart the very sky above them. The leftover shudders of thunder made that a frightening consideration. The sea had wanted to rip them from the skies, churning angrily and rearing up in large waves like an offended creature. As if she'd allowed them passage over her waters and grew tired of their presence. It didn't take long for him to lose sight of the witch and her burgundy harpia.)
Begrudgingly Aktaion would be remiss to not realize that they had made it to the southern isles at the very least, albeit unconventionally. He could only hope that Maja had made it onto the same island as he. He didn't worry too much about her safety, knowing the witch was far more capable of handling herself, her stryx included.
Instead, he had more pressing concerns that needed his immediate attention. Starting with peeling his sand-papered-tongue from the roof of his mouth to spit out whatever sand he could manage to clear out, any pretense of moisture gone.
The shaded jungle ahead of him looked all the more inviting.
As he made to move forward, talons sinking through the sifting, coarse ground, he registered a stinging pain in his side. Craning his neck back, he found a pair of crabs trying desperately to cling on as the massive gryph heaved himself up.
Giving a little shake only jostled the crabs and flung more sand. Aktaion grimaced at the sharp pulls of having to forcefully remove the crustaceans himself. The little creatures were quick to scramble back towards the glittering waters.
Everything was glittering and gleaming and did nothing to abate the pulsing in his temples. He hurried all the more through the sinking sand to clamber his way towards the edge of the shaded jungle, seeking anything that wasn't sun and seawater.
The sounds of the jungle were unlike any forest he'd ever been in. All manner of creatures flitted and jumped and swung through the dense canopy, skittered through the many bushes, or simply watched him from looping vines. Most were bright and vibrant, contrasting greatly with all the greenery and yet blending in beautifully and naturally.
Aktaion bent down in front of a freshwater stream, having not scented any salt, and drank his fill. It was so refreshing it almost hurt.
Across the stream, he spied a flash of color and a rustle of movement. He pretended to indulge in his drinking, paying no mind, when the little beasties crept forward, curiosity shining in their small eyes.
It was a trio of brightly colored microstryx. The largest one had plumage mixed with all kinds of colors, from cyan all over to green and teal tipped wings with a deep amber breast. It chirped and cooed while its friends stayed further back.
A word came to mind. The little stryx reminded him of a parrot. Or was the term a macaw? A very large bird he'd once seen in town, caged yet proud looking as onlookers peered at its striking colors.
(He remembered the bird scooting to the edge of its perch to get closer to him as he ambled by the exotic seller. It had gazed at him like it was trying to figure out if Aktaion was a hybrid of its species or not. He remembered telling Khione about the bird, and she had relayed those two words back to him. Ah, a macaw was a type of parrot.)
The microstryx wearing the macaw's colors squawked again and did some hops before taking up into the branches, its friends following close behind.
Aktaion blinked and looked back at the stream, catching sight of the streaks of black on his face and the tuft of green on his head melding into his blue feathers.
(He'd never been to a jungle before, but he looked just as brightly colored as any of the inhabitants he's seen.)
(He wondered if any stryx resided here. He should've asked Maja before they left the north.)
Wherever the witch and her stryx ended up, he wouldn't find them by staying in one spot. He also might've been curious about checking out this side of the southern hemisphere.
He silently noted the strange creatures with long tails that swung through the vines and branches of the tallest trees. They were heavily furred and chittered loudly amongst themselves, paying him no mind. He discovered other brightly colored microstryx and birds alike, but still no other dragons.
(How far did this island stretch? And were there humans here as well? Or perhaps another sentient species that he often saw intermingling with the humans.)
The longer he meandered through the deeper parts of the jungle, the tenser he got. While he may of been a gryph of considerable size, he started getting the distinct feeling of being watched. It wasn't a casual watching from his many small watchers in the trees and on the ground, but he could feel a deeper gaze on his back. A more thoughtful gaze, careful, intelligent.
The clearing up ahead was lined with towering rainforest trees, creating a bowl out of the dewy grass. Even with the perimeter of trees, it was easily the least shaded area of the whole jungle, minus the beach.
The jungle was spacious, but this little glen allowed Aktaion to shake off the moisture and dew clinging to his coverts, fluffing up the feathers along his neck.
Out in the open, that watchful feeling only burned brighter.
(Like a wolf stalking a hare, yet Aktaion felt no immediate danger or threat, and so was content to let the observer be.)
He was reminded of just how hungry he was as he discovered a small copse of fruit-bearing trees towards the other edge.
The fruits were all as diverse as the trees they hung from. The green and blue crudely star-shaped fruit snagged his interest.
It was sweeter than he thought, and tasted cool like it had been sitting with ice. He devoured at least two more, the blue juices blending in easily with his own cyan coloring.
(Fruit might just become his new favorite snack.)
He pulled away from the produce, chewing thoughtfully on the ripened flesh of another star-fruit, when the glint of something caught his eye.
Further inwards, there was a chunk of rock half embedded into the earth. He honed in on the artifact and it gleamed again as the sunlight filled and bounced off of various whorls and markings.
Aktaion crept closer. It wasn't just a rock, but maybe a piece of some pillar or column, broken off and jagged, and yet still too intricately designed to be of natural origin.
A human or a humanoid was the only thing that came to mind.
He nosed off some clumps of moss and vines with his beak, revealing multiple deep-set lines and carvings. A language of pictograms.
(There was something so familiar about it.)
He had to tilt his head this way and that to connect the lines and curves and make out what it was showing him. After a few minutes of studying it, he realized the pictograms resembled stryx, and not the microstryx that took a liking to flitting and bobbing around him.
The images depicted the broad wings of a harpia, a multitude of silky tails on another. They were crudely drawn, but had obviously been done by hand and with care. And yet these stryx...
...their heads were all different, unlike anything he's seen. What should've been the face of a tyto was instead a stout beak that didn't match the neatly tucked in beaks he knew of.
He found a gryph and was surprised to find it had such a large bill. The corva looked like that exotic macaw he had seen in the square.
The variations were carved in so well, like the locals saw these stryx as often as Aktaion saw others of his own kind. He studied it some more, burning the image into his mind to relay back to Maja and whoever else he could find.
This was insane! Just like the unveiling of the existence of korora, Aktaion supposed he shouldn't be too surprised, but this wasn't just the discovery of a new species. It was as if these stryx had stumbled into these islands and had developed traits to match their environment. He wouldn't be surprised if they bore coloring similar to his own or the other brightly colored fauna and creatures he's seen.
The curved and tapered beaks were a prominent feature. He wondered if it made eating the abundance of fruit he's seen any easier. They didn't exactly look fit for tearing into and shredding apart tendons and meat.
Filing away his musings, he glanced at the rock again before every quill on his body stood on end. He felt his crest rising before the feeling settled and he whipped around, chest puffed and his back teeth showing.
Across from him at the clearing's entrance stood a stryx. A large stryx—a gryph— yet still smaller than him.
The other gryph had more of a macaw's face instead of the large bill he had seen, and didn't look at all threatening.
He scented the air. A female. It left him even wearier. Females could be more territorial than their counterparts, with larger territories for the eventual rearing of chicks.
But her feathers were laid flat, her stance upright but not at all tense. She crept closer, not at all put off by his display. She looked curious more than anything.
Aktaion proceeded on the side of caution, but loosened the tension from his own body, rounding his eyes out to be more inviting instead of the narrowed squint he had thrown her.
The stryxess was striking. She was orange all over with a sunset-colored underbelly of reds and oranges. She bore the same white face as he with her own pattern of black streaks. Her feathers were silky and abundant as she fanned her tail of cascading feathers outwards in a friendly gesture. The base of each wing faded from a yellowish-orange to lime-green with a layer of bright green covert feathers under those and then another layer of light blue edge with darker blues. Her primaries were teal-tipped.
She was...striking.
"Sorry for the stalking. I've just never seen someone like you."
The voice that rang in his head was smooth and sweet like the star-fruit he had eaten. He found his mouth dry and full of sand yet again.
She continued closer, shifting a teal-tipped tropical wing. "I'm Ctesylla."
When he didn't say anything she prompted him. "And you are?"
The male gryph had to pry his tongue from the roof of his mouth. "Uh, Aktaion. Is my name."
(He could've sunk right back into the sea just now.)
"Ak-tay-on." She tested it out. "I like it. It's unusual, like you."
Yep, he wished for a tsunami to come a take him now as his neck heated up under her words.
(Gods, he wasn't a crushing fledgling.)
"But if I didn't know any better, you look like you'd fit right in, from a distance of course."
"What do you mean by that?"
"Well your feathers and colors are really the only thing you've got going for you in terms of blending in. But you have a different beak than the gryphs I know, and you're much larger than any gryph on this island for sure." She took to circling him, craning her neck to look at whatever she wanted and eyeing his stature.
"Trust me, where I come from, you're just as different."
"How so?" She plopped down and shook out a beautiful wing, amusement in her irises.
"For starters, not too many stryx are brightly colored like I am. So next to me, you'd stick out like a sore thumb for sure." He laughed and quickly amended. "In a good way of course. You look like a walking paradise."
Her eyes lit up at the compliment, springing back to her feet with a flutter of feathers. "I've never thought of it like that. Just about all the stryx here are brightly colored."
Suddenly Ctesylla was completely in his face, causing him to shift backwards lest he fall.
"You've even got the facial markings like most of us here. How are you not from here?"
Aktaion got back up and tilted his head. "I'm not sure. I guess I've just got good genes." He felt a swell of pride in his own appearance and Ctesylla's liking towards him.
(Appearance's wasn't everything, but come on, he knew how beautiful he looked and took his time in making sure every feather was aligned and glossy. He didn't look his best at the moment, but refused to dwell on those horrifying thoughts for too long.)
Ctesylla gave him another once over before turning on her tail and strutting back towards the edge of the clearing.
Aktaion was quick to scramble after her. "Wait, where are you going?"
"To take you back to my tribe." She smiled at him, a soft light dappling across her back. "Unless you'd rather stare at that old column piece all afternoon."
Aktaion was reminded of the witch he was traveling with and saw best to follow after her. He didn't know these islands, but Ctesylla and her tribe did. They could help him get back to Maja, if the witch hadn't already found them first.
A/N: I had such fun writing this! Ctesylla (Teh·sell·ah) is going to be my Gold Semi that I've already been designing. I love her already and am going to have lots of fun with her, at Aktaion's expense of course. My beautiful macaw boy needs his beautiful macaw forever partner.
Ctesylla is actually based off of a Camelot Macaw, which is a second generation cross between a Scarlet Macaw and a Catalina Macaw (which is already a cross between a Scarlet and a Blue and Gold Macaw). I fell in love with the Camelot and knew she was going to be perfect for Aktaion. I encourage any and all to look up Camelot Macaws and even Catalina Macaws. They're beautiful hybrids from already beautiful birds.
Alrighty, enough of my rant~
TLDR; I'm in love with both Aktaion and my future 2nd macaw stryx, Ctesylla, who is totally based on a Camelot Macaw and you've gotta check them out. They're beautiful 2nd gen hybrids (scarlet x catalina)~

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