The Raven’s scion will make us whole again. Her dive into the unknown will sow the seeds of rebirth.
Lena Davies, The Owl 721 AF
My mother was beautiful, wise, and everyone seemed to love her. I knew better. She was a fraud, intent on keeping the power she had garnered through cruelty and cunning. I watched her at the helm, head held high, obsidian hair whipping in the wind behind her. The crew watched her too. Their eyes were hungry, each wishing just to bask in her majesty.
I spat in disgust and turned back to my quarters, Derrick shadowing me closely.
“You can go,” I said, waving him off. “No one is going to bother me on the ship.”
“But... but your mother said I need to be your shield. How can I do this if you keep sending me away?”
I inhaled deeply, practicing my patience. “Whatever. Stand at my door all day, if that strikes your fancy. Just leave me alone.”
“As you wish.”
His shoulders slumped, and he gazed down at his feet, kicking at an invisible rock. I knew I should feel sorry for him, but he was just another one of my mother’s lackeys. If the guy had any sort of backbone, he wouldn’t be on The Halcyon.
The ship groaned as it veered westward to our next stop. Its giant engine gliders, affixed to the keel, were black and shaped to look like raven wings, and the rudder on the back splayed like beautiful tail feathers. My mother was nothing, if not vain.
Derrick reached a hand out to steady me, which I promptly swatted away.
“I was born on a ship, I can catch my balance.” He nodded and slunk back a few steps, settling himself into the right of the entry. He was still watching me closely as I entered my bedroom and slammed the door shut.
My room was large, only slightly smaller than Mothers, and equal to Lena’s. The constant whir of engines was muffled in here, providing a respite to the noise outside. A giant viewing portal took up the entire wall ahead of me. It was my favorite feature of the room. Sometimes I could pretend the wall fell away, and I was flying through the land, like a bird. I strode forward, placing two hands on the thick glass, looking down.
Below me was a thick mass of dark clouds, raining down its mix of acidic poison on the poor souls below. The people I was supposed to save because of some stupid prophecy. I shook my head, glimpsing my reflection in the window. If they only knew the truth.
I was so different from my mother. Where she was dark and dangerous, I was soft. My long blond strands were almost white, and my skin was as pale as the porcelain china she served tea from. No one knew who my father was, myself included, and The Raven quickly dismissed anyone that asked that question. Dismissal meant being unceremoniously dumped off The Halcyon. From my recollection, that only happened once.
Wandering over to the mahogany wardrobe, I pulled open the door, inspecting my project. It was almost complete. An intricate pattern of feathers delicately laced over the thin leather backing. It was really more of a glider than actual wings. But the feathers were important, as I had found each one myself. I had toiled for years over this project. A Magnus Opus of sorts. All in secret. Not even Lena or Mother had known about my project. Flopping down on my plush bed, I grabbed my notes, checking the calculations for the hundredth time. They would work. I knew it.
We were en route to Azuros to pick up Lena, The Owl. She was my spiritual guide and the only person in the world that truly loved me. Sure, I had admirers. I could walk on the deck of the ship, and anyone out there would do my bidding in a heartbeat. But they were sycophants and fools. To my mother, I was a tool. A means to an end.
Lena was the one that raised me. She was my teacher and friend, and the only other soul in the world that knew the truth. There were three of us that knew. Lena, my mother, and I. And my mother wasn’t even aware I knew. Lena had told me on my sixteenth birthday.
A soft knock sounded at the door.
“Skye?” Derrick’s voice called. Three more quick raps came again in quick succession. “Skye, we are about to dock. Your mother would like you at the helm with her.”
“Coming,” I called back, trying to sound pleasant. It wasn’t his fault he was stuck guarding me. I swung my legs over the side of my bed and forced myself to face the world yet again.
Cheers resounded from the immense assemblage as my mother and I strode onto the deck. We would not disembark, but my mother told me our people needed to see us, so they knew we existed. It gave them hope that someday life would be better.
I inspected the crowd. They were thin, covered in sores, with patchy hair and pallid skin. I looked down at my own flawless complexion and felt only shame. That could have been me. Should have been me. Sorrow welled inside, and tears pooled.
My mother’s eyes missed nothing. She clasped my hand tightly, digging sharp nails into the skin below my knuckles. “
“You are their savior. Save your tears for the pillow,” she hissed, all the while maintaining a bright smile.
I blinked twice and my face was a blank canvas yet again. Lena made her way up the ramp, followed by two men carrying a chest filled with tribute. The masses roared with approval as my mother sent crewmates to distribute food and medicine amongst the sick. I did my best to look disinterested. I knew the medicine was a ruse, and the food would last a day at most. Once everyone was on board, the ramp closed and the engines whirred into life.
“Mother, are you not going to speak?” I asked.
She gazed up at the massing clouds and shook her head. “There is a storm coming, and I would like to get above it before it rains.”
The Raven flicked a hand, and the crew sprang into action to prepare our voyage to the next city.
“Found this one, at an old market. It’s about the anatomy of birds.” Lena sat at the oak desk in my bedroom, with a book open before her. “You are always asking what they are like.”
There was no resisting the urge to see her treasure. I hopped off my bed and headed over to see what she had found. People rarely saw birds anymore. They primarily lived in roosts well above the cloud cover, where it was safe from the poison water. I would collect feathers as we journeyed from port to port. They were a rarity, but living in an airship offered me ample opportunities to find them.
The book was open to a rendering of a wingspan. I ran my finger across the drawing and resisted glancing at the wardrobe holding my creation. Lena couldn’t know. She would think I was crazy.
I studied the notes and memos scratched on the page by some long-forgotten ornithologist and felt more confident in my wings. It was the tertials that I worried about the most, as they were the hardest to emulate. From the diagrams in front of me, they seemed unimportant in the actual flight mechanism.
“Thank you, Lena!” I cried as I wrapped my arms around her. “Where did you find this?”
“Azuros had an old library. They were quick to let The Owl take whatever she wanted.” Lena tucked a stray strand of hair behind one of my ears and leaned back. “How have you been holding up, with me gone?”
Pulling out the chair that was tucked neatly into my desk, I sat down. Anyone else would have believed my lie about being fine in an instant. Not Lena.
“Horrible,” I pouted. “How can I go about my days, as if nothing has changed? Sometimes I wish you never told me.”
Lena put a hand on my shoulder and gave me a squeeze. “Would it have been better for you to find out on your own?”
“Why did you do it?” I pushed her hand away and turned to face her. “What gave you two the right?”
She let out a long breath and walked to my bed, sitting on the edge. “In the beginning, it was about hope. The world was falling apart.”
“It still is,” I scoffed. “Unless, of course, you are wealthy enough to live in an airship.”
“It is better than before.” She raised an eyebrow in my direction, “The people benefit from our charity, and you bring them hope.”
“And what happens when I don’t sow the seeds of rebirth, or whatever crap you made up.” I turned away, trying to hide the fact that tears were forming in my eyes. “She is not really my mother. What if the real one says something?”
“That is impossible,” Lena replied. “She is long since dead.”
“Leave me alone,” I whispered without turning around.
I listened to her feet pad across the lush carpet and sighed a breath of relief when the door clicked shut. She would go to my mother next and try to explain away the behavior I had exhibited for the last few months.
There were only a few clouds in the sky. Wispy cirrus ones, like the feathers of the birds that used to fill the skies. I studied the atmosphere from my picture window and knew it had to be today.
No longer would I sit in the gilded cage, the princess of a prophecy that would never come to be. I would fly free, and they would never find me. I would ride the trade winds to my next adventure, and I would decide who I got to be.
Last night, I wrote two letters. One to my mother, The Raven, who only thought of me as a tool. It was cold and calculating, just like her. I had considered telling the world the truth, but Lena was right. Let them have their hope. The second letter was to Lena, The Owl. She was the one that truly raised me and would miss me. She received my forgiveness.
I pulled my apparatus from the mahogany wardrobe, and carefully looped the straps around my arms. Hundreds of the feathers that I had collected over the years adorned the leather wings, mostly for aesthetics.
Derrick was outside my door, as usual. He averted his eyes as I exited the room but dutifully followed me to the stern of the ship.
“What are you wearing?” he finally asked as I peered over the edge, into the abyss.
I didn’t answer him. Just climbed onto the rim and spread my wings.
“Skye!” He shouted, concerned. “Get down, you are going to fall!”
Guilt almost overwhelmed me. Derrick would face my mother’s wrath and likely pay for it with his life. I prayed Lena would step in, but it was out of my hands.
I shut my eyes as the warmth of the sun crept over my face and leaped into the air. The wings jerked slightly as they caught an updraft, and I did not look back and I glided on the gale that would take me away.