Chapter 2: Daius
Baashirah blinked owlishly and couldn't help the tilting of his head.
Before him was a stryxess whom he'd never met before, brought along by Kirin, his nest-sibling. The harpia had feathers the color of amber and cream and reddish-chocolate with specks of white frosted throughout. She looked like the manifestation of autumn itself. According to Kirin, she was a friend of a friend who heard of their plight in finding a third partner for their tributes to the gods.
She was honored and delighted to help them. Baas wasn't sure why she'd bother, but he was grateful nonetheless.
Cider picked out a rumpled feather or two as Kirin explained what they were going for. "Just to recite, you've picked Daius for your first tribute and have a route picked out, right?"
Kirin nodded. "It's still early, which means the mountain winds will be pretty fierce, giving us," he bobbed a head at Baashirah, "more of a challenge. Since our territory is rather big, we figured this would be a great spot to race. We'll start here in the mountains and end by the shoreline."
Not too far off in the distance was indeed glittering blue waters, a thin veil of mist spooling over what they could see.
"On the way down there'll be some narrow turns and tight crevices—" Baas tried to input helpfully.
"—and you're warning me of this because of my size?" The harpia deadpanned, shuffling her feathers. "
"Believe me, I've done my fair share of dangerous maneuvers, and I've assisted various stryx in their own endeavors. This is nothing new for me." She huffed.
Embarrassed, he fanned out his tail feathers. "Ah, sorry about that. At any rate, we should get started. I'd bet that Daius has fully awoken by now."
The air already felt lighter as the last of the morning dew evaporated. They were high up on the peak of a mountain and the usual dense fog that clouded the peaks had already abated some.
Kirin let out a loud call, flaring his wings and curing his primaries inwards. "Last one there..well...loses." Then he was gone, having flung himself sideways over the lip of the ledge they were perched on.
"What?!" Baas was mid-squawk when he got a face full of feathers as Cider sprang up with an excited cry and dove after the corva.
Wasting no more time, he was quick to follow.
The wind was a wild and livid thing as it flattened his feathers and clawed at him. His thin, tapered wings and shorter neck helped to streamline his entire body, rocketing him down through the sky and passing Cider by, who let out her own cry of indignation, her own wings folded just as tightly to her sides. The gap between him and Kirin diminished second by second.
'Ah, Kirin thought to give himself a head start.' Baas was fine with that. He had loads of confidence in his own abilities.
Kirin was barely able to look back against the sheer winds tearing at his face, but could see a certain red and brown blob gaining on his tail. Sometimes it was easy to forget Baas' speed and nimbleness, and when it came to diving, he was like none other.
Kirin would just have to play to his own strengths as well.
As Baas shot into his line of sight, Kirin partially extended his wings, allowing the air to catch and to snag at his feathers, slowing him from his freefall for a miniscule second before he widened them, curving his wings inward and tilting his body forward. The resulting warm draft he caught buoyed him and kept him aloft. He drifted for a second or two, but because he lacked the slotted feathers of harpias and gryphs, he begun flapping in steady beats, allowing for a second or two of gliding.
Cider wasn't far behind, having already pulled up into the air, for the drag was greater on her and took her longer to catch onto the air. Once she did, she was on a steady glide through the mountain pass.
Baas kept up his dive, angling himself slightly away from the cliff face that blurred past his body. Seconds later, he extended the tips of his primaries just slightly, bowing his wings up and closer to his body. He was like an arrowhead, carving a path through the air just for himself. The air pulled and swept through his new feather formation, creating a curved path of air as he leveled himself horizontally and swept out of the dive and straight across the pass.
The winds worked to try and press his wings closer to his body, but Baas was far stronger, curving in his secondaries and stretching out his primaries. The warm current that caught Kirin fumbled with Baas' speedy form before catching and lifting. He was being buoyed up, warm air beneath his wings, rising higher into the sky.
Treetops and rocky outcroppings soared beneath him, Kirin higher above him in the air, and Cider a tails-length behind the competing duo.
The edges of Baas' tapered wings brushed against rock and stone as he dipped and rolled through the mountain valley, twisting between narrowed gaps of stoned walls, swooping under and over stony archways. It'd been a while since he'd flown like that, casting his mind into the winds that held him aloft and giving himself over to the skies, his rationale quiet. He need not think nor focus on anything but the feel of the wind beneath his wings, holding him afloat like water.
He curved the arm of his wing in, banking a hard right past a trio of royal basin goats, balancing precariously among the hidden clefts and ridges of the cliff-face. He had startled them enough that they scattered deeper into the mountain pass like petals, never loosing that precarious footing.
A loud cry alerted Baas and allowed him to pull hard at the wind, swerving to the side as Kirin dive-bombed into his space. The tranquility shattered as he was reminded of the race he was still participating in.
Kirin let out a loud 'whoop', Cider hot on his tail, as he crested. Ah, so that was his plan. The cream and tan corva had remained higher up, waiting for Baas to level himself out before packing on some more speed with an angled dive he had just swooped out of.
He had to admit, despite Kirin's absonant and daring nature, and having been raised by hawk stryx, he definitely had the brilliance of any given corva.
Baas pressed on, eating up the distance greedily in his pursuit. All three stryx crested out of the mountains with ease, surging further upwards into the sky thanks to the warm updraft that swirled about the entrance to the valley.
Oncoming forest was nothing a sea of green, their target destination of blue only a couple of leagues away.
Both stryx were neck and neck, their feathers warming beneath Daius' sun, the steadfast winds coiling and streaming off of the tips of their primaries as they cut paths for themselves.
Kirin felt as though he could almost taste the briny breeze, his feathers quivering as they both looped through the last dredges of their race.
Glancing at his brother, eyes bright, they flew.
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