Chapter 1: Galyx
The world was quiet, save for the rustling of the tall grass brushing against his fur and feathers, no matter how silently he strode. Baashirah had been enjoying the last few rays of rosy sunlight atop a cliff, enjoying the break in the snowfall, when he had spotted a Jag Deer some 50 meters out.
No, that wouldn’t do, not if he was to offer up his hunt in tribute of Galyx himself. The jag deer was little bigger than a horse and would satisfy his hunger plenty given his own size as a hawk...but…the thought nagged at him to go bigger, bolder, flashier, something that spoke volumes of his worth as a matured stryx who could provide for others.
A certain fiery-blooded stryxess came to mind. It was this very same stryx who plagued his mind as of recent, and who made him question and reconsider all of his efforts. She was knowledgeable, having already accomplished her own set of tributes, and had qualms about setting aside her time and helping him with his tribute to the Sun God. As quickly as she flashed into his life, she had taken off in a swirl and browns and reds and tans, leaving sweet words in her wake. To say their personalities clashed was an understatement, and yet the two dragons couldn’t have gotten along better. Baashirah would be lying if he didn’t say that a small part of him admired the way her feathers seemed to compliment his own brown and red hues.
He wouldn’t say he fancied her. Instead the feeling came closer to more of a respect, an admiration towards the slightly older stryx. The stryxess couldn’t be more than three years older than himself.
He let out a noisy chuff through his nostrils, shifting his weight to one side and then the other. The possibility of seeing Cider again was next to none, being that he was now back within his own swath of territory. Well, almost his own, as he did share it with a fellow bachelor. A tan corva who happened to be in the same tribute boat as he. In fact, Kirin was thrilled when Baashirah had asked him if they could do their tributes together. He had had claimed that he’d been thinking on completing his tributes for months, but felt as though Baas never had any interest.
His friend couldn't be more wrong. Baas himself had assumed that the exuberant corva would've left and sought out some other companions. They both couldn't be more different, and yet they've stuck by each other for over a decade now. The days of
tumbling around a too-large nest, fluttering around with down for wings, and of soft coos and nuzzles from a warm mother were long behind them. Now as they matured before Daius himself, it was only natural they both embark on this next journey together as well.
It was pure fate that his mother, a lovely and vibrant stryxess, had stumbled upon the crying corva, whose own mother was nowhere to be found. Not even a whisp of a scent remained to tell them of Kirin's homage. Instead, she had fussed over the fledging like he had always been her own, and Baas found himself a playmate, and a brother. As Baas grew older, he had begun to speculate that humans had something to do with Kirin's misplacement, as he had been found along the edge of his mother's territory without a single trace of another stryxess.
Kirin was too young to remember what might have happened, and Baashirah had never asked. He seemed happy enough, nestled into their little family, so Baas saw no reason to dredge up memories best left in the past.
A yawn curled its way up his throat and left him working his jaw as he pried his beak open as far as it would go. It was still getting later and the deer he had been watching was long gone. Ah well. He hadn't been sure if that was going to be his offering anyways. He wasn't even sure where Kirin was at the moment.
Between the two of them, their territory was vast. They split the patrolling between the both of them and would change halves every so often. Baas was pretty proud of their little slice of life, however long it would last. Given their desires to complete their tributes, it was only a matter of time before one of them settled. Baas wasn't sure what would come to pass then.
Whoever they managed to woe, be it a stryx or stryxess, they'd want enough territory for a family of their own. An outsider wouldn't be able to grasp the depth that their bond went. Baas always felt more of an older brother to Kirin. The rationale to his excitement, the responsibility to his carefree nature. So he knew; knew that if Kirin found the one, he'd willingly leave their large territory to the corva.
After all, he reasoned with himself, while having the amount of space they had was nice, it would be all the more difficult for him to defend his stake given his smaller stature as a hawk. He'd go down tooth and claw for what was his, but realistically, if he were to come across a gryph, or even a sizeable harpia, on his own...he might not be so lucky.
A warm breeze was stirred up along with the accompaniment of a familiar scent of oak and hazelnuts. Where has he smelled that before? He parted his beak to better scent the wind, when he sensed a presence. Whipping his head around, he spotted a shadow further up in the clouds. As it got closer, the shadow morphed into two beings.
"Hey Baas! Look who I found?!"
He squinted against the glare of the dying sun. When the figures settled into resolution, he blinked, and blinked again. "Cider? Kirin, what? How?" His thoughts were a whir as the autumn-colored harpia touched down, folding in cream and red wings.
She looked at him with mirth shining in her own orbs. "Baas. It's been a minute hasn't it?" She dipped her head in greeting, smoothing down the feathers along her neck.
"I--uh, yeah, yeah it has I guess."
The tan and cream corva circled once more before alighting onto a boulder in between the both of them. While his tail lacked the tuft of feathers at the end, it's white tip was a blur as he animatedly bobbed his head at both Baas and Cider.
"Crazy right?! I was at our eastern border, you know where the dragonet kits are nested, and there she is, just snoozing on a rock."
Cider gave an amused chirp, shaking her head with a laugh. "I scented the both of you here and tried to wait for one of you guys to notice me, but it took two days." Her sweet laugh rung in both of their heads. "How big is your territory anyways?"
Baas shook out of the feathers of his wings, ridding them of the prickling sensation brought about by nervousness. "Oh you know--"
"Wait, did you need something? Anybody in trouble? Or did you come here for a certain haw--"
Kirin's interruption was silenced with a whack from Baashirah's tail. Which given its curliness, was akin to getting whacked with a fan.
"Alright, alright. I concede." Kirin jumped off his perch with a flap, out of range.
'Little brother indeed.' He grumbled internally.
Cider looked about ready to laugh.
Calming his fluffed up feathers, he tilted his head. "But why are you here? Don't get me wrong, you're welcome anytime, just curious is all."
"Oh? Anytime--?" Kirin, who had landed back onto his perch, received another beak-full of feathers. "I deserved that."
Kirin knew of the other stryx's adoration of the harpia, whether he wanted to admit it or not.
"Why I'm here for part two of course."
Both male stryx looked at one another.
"Part two of...?"
"Your tributes." The swish of her tail told them she was taking great amusement in their confusion. 'Males.' She thought heartily. "We all parted ways after the tribute to Daius, and I forgot to ask about the other two."
Baas was perplexed if anything. She had been doing them a favor the first time around, but this was going above and beyond. "You came all this way just to help us get our Eye of Galayx?"
"Well yeah." She put it simply. "There's a much better success rate if you stick with the same partners all three rounds. The tributes are about more than just completing them ya know."
Kirin stilled his very animated body, and cocked his own head. "I can see that."
"The tributes aren't only about proving yourself to the gods, but to allow the participating stryx to bond even further, creating a greater cohesion, a better team. This teamwork is what you need to learn. Not just with those close and familiar to you, but to adapt to an outsider as well and continue moving as one."
Kirin cooed. "That was poetic."
"I mean everyone eventually learns these things. I guess I'm just giving you guys a heads up." There was a look in her eye that made Baas shake his wings out yet again. "Now Kirin tells me that you've been fat cat in the sun all day."
Baas's crest was up, his feathers fluffed and puffed out in indignation, squawking. "What?! He told you that?"
"I told you, it's his 'recovery day'." Kirin whispered conspiratorially, even though he could be heard in all their heads.
"Yes, I need my recovery days because it's a lot more work for me to patrol my side of the territory." Baas shot a non-heated glare at the corva. "I may be faster, but not for long stretches."
Kirin was grinning with his eyes all the same.
Shaking his head, Baas re-flatted his feathers, craning his neck around to physically smoothen a couple of bent ones and compose himself. He was used to Kirin's antics, but doing their usual bantering in front of Cider left him feeling awkward and antsy.
"Anyways." He mumbled. "I was thinking of what to offer Galayx."
Cider got up and paced over to the edge of the rocky outcrop. She gazed out at the mountain range before tilting her head skyward. "Let's tackle a Fadian Boar. Your mountains look like the right kind of habitat for one."
Kirin was animated again while Baas had a look of horror. "You want us to take on that tusky beast?!"
"Come on, I know we can." Cider encouraged, coming back to their little circle. "It's spring, meaning their might be piglets, so nighttime is our best bet. When they'll be out foraging."
"Piglets also mean very angry, very mean, very stabby boar parents. And they're already dreadful on a good day."
"Yeah, and that's the best part." Cider pointed out, with Kirin bobbing his head in frantic agreement. "Something that's worthy of Galayx. This is your tribute, not a nighttime snack. Something like a fadian boar will only better test how well we work together."
"Plus one boar will feed all of us, plus some leftovers." He added in.
She had a point, and Kirin was already on board regardless, the chance of a challenge being enough to excite him.
Baas has spied many a boar throughout their territory, but higher up on the jagged peaks was where the fadian boar liked to make its home, using its four tusks to tunnel into the mountain itself. Not only were its four tusks an issue, another set of four circled its jugular like a necklace of bones. One whip of its neck, and one of them could be skewered without it even charging at them. Smaller spines lined the back of its neck, leaving a very narrow window at the underside of its neck for the killing blow.
And if both parents were out...Oh daius...
"Well Baas, are you in?"
And if they did managed to take one out, imagine the story, and the triumph of such a feat. If they slew it and not the other way around. Gods, this was a risky contribution for their tribute. But he would be lying if he said he wasn't intrigued. There some part of his soul, beneath all of his logic and reasoning that was a dying to see for himself, to put himself to that test. He would have speed on his side. Something they could play to their advantage given the two larger stryx. He had doubts, many, many doubts.
"Alright fine. Let's hunt down a fadian boar."
By the time the trio had finally agreed to set out, the sky was awash with deep hues of royal blues and dusky purples. The air itself had gotten far cooler than the cave mouth Baas had spent the better part of his day in. The sharp breeze coiling off of the mountain was a reminder that spring had only just begun.
"Do we know how to find them?" Given their ability to speak within each other's minds, there was no need to be heard over the brazen winds.
"I know what to look for. I have hunted these creatures before." Cider gave very few flaps as she rode the draft.
"That's awesome!" Similarly, Kirin had little issue with flying headlong against the grain.
While Baas was much faster and more agile, he felt as though he was exerting just a bit more energy to stay on course.
Cider lowered her altitude to sweep closer to the tree tops, searching for something. "See those gouges in the pine trees?"
Baas squinted into the fading twilight. Indeed there were several trees whose bark looked like it had been sloughed off like snow off an embankment. The barren patches were deep and large.
"The males sharpen the tusks on their face that way and the females will sometimes eat the bark. We're getting closer."
Kirin swept a little closer as well. "Are we following the trail of trunk pieces?"
Cider gave him a smile. "Well spotted."
Baashirah was still unsure, but he was too far in now. He tried to hype himself up with thoughts of proving himself to Cider, or just for himself, something he could say he's done in his lifetime. The self-psyching-up felt hollow.
"There they are." A shallow cavern dug into the cliff-face was proof the boars living there. "Remember, the female will be the most aggressive, so we're targeting the male, who should be out foraging."
Baas nodded wearily and veered off of their shared flight path to begin scouring the area closest to the cave. More trees lacking their outer layers and a couple of felled ones too made up the surrounding area.
He let out a piercing cry, alerting his companions to his spot. There hunkered down among the brush was a hulking animal, roughly the size of a pony with the breadth and mass of a bear. It glared up into the air, snorting and huffing furiously.
Following the plan they had laid out, Baas swept down towards the creature, close enough to see that infamous necklace of spines before pulling his wings up and flaring his primaries and tail feathers to create drag, ascending back up as it swung its hoary head.
The idea was to have him and Kirin tackle the beast mainly, with Cider assisting for the killing blow. They would need to keep an eye on each other all times as well as the boar so as not to cause any in-flight accidents.
Working in tandem, Baas had effectively caught the boar's attention and flew close to the ground, curving around trees and barreling under and over low-hanging branches, the animal a driving force at his heels. Kirin was higher above and further ahead, waiting until Baas ducked low enough under a sprawling root for the corva do flash his talons at the boar's face. His original quarry gone, a posed with a new threat, the boar slid to a halt as talons scratched and marred its face.
The boar swung its head left and right, trying to lock one of its tusks with a target until it was forced to whirl around from a gash to the backside via Baas' own talons, who had swept up and over the boar, leaving Kirin room to try and pierce at its throat with a talon, only to miss.
Enraged, the boar swung its head wildly and charged at the nearest stryx, Baas who had landed to take stock of their next move. The hawk was quick to jump back into the air as the boar missed its mark and snorted spittle of rage.
"Kirin, I'll distract, you use your weight."
Baas trusted his brother enough to know he understood. Kirin was smaller than a harpia, but hopefully the momentum would be enough. Using his curly tail, he whipped it at the boar and caught its gaze. Baas hovered before leading the chase again.
The corva swung up into the sky before diving back down, wings pulled in close before opening them partially, primaries slotted and secondaries fluffed to create enough of a curved swoop, right into the side of the animal.
While the boar was bowled over, Kirin completed his sideswipe with a heaving breath and thrust upwards when Cider flashed through the trees, a shrill shriek leaving her beak as she crashed down upon the boar, her talons locked around its torso as she weighted it to the ground.
Quickly and deftly, Baashirah snaked in and dug his beak into the creature's throat, the hunt finished.