A writing piece for Elektronx.
After being forced from the skies by the Turbuli, Scapes and Hights have had to adapt to life on the ground.
The jungle air hung thick and humid. Trees reached for the sky, each in decade-long races against their neighbours, competing to see who could claim the most sunlight. At the feet of the great trees lay the stragglers and the shrubbery. Yet more plants grew on the trees themselves – tangled vines and other parasitic growths. The density of this foliage made it hard for the air to reach the ground, but every now and then a faint hint of a breeze might touch the ground, each one resembling a breath – as if the forest itself were a living creature.
A gargantuan creature the forest may not be, yet it was still alive. Songs of countless birds, the humming of insects and cries of other animals sounded across the forest. Lives too numerous to imagine, each with their own struggles and desires.
In some places where the soil was not suitable for trees – whether not firm enough, ruined by shallow rocks or something else. In these rare patches where the sunlight touches the ground, grasses and shrubbery grew thick. In these gap in the foliage, one could sometimes even see enough of the sky that they could see the massive mountains looming over the jungle-filled highlands. Though they may not be desirable to many, there were scores of creatures who welcomed these spots of sun.
One such creature lay belly-up, soaking itself in the sunshine – it’s own patch of heaven. Had it not been so tragically grounded, this creature might instead have been one with the heavens at this moment. Smooth feathers once as white as the clouds, now ruffled and dirtied by life in the forest. Six long and slender wings that might never see the skies again. Yet, this creature was happy. It’s supple form lazily splayed across the ground. A serene expression on its face was accompanied by a healthy sky-blue glow emanating from the tips of the tendrils upon its neck, wings and tail.
Soft rustling sounded in the bushes at the edge of the clearing. The whispering of grass and leaves grew closer and closer, creeping towards the oblivious sky creature. All of a sudden, a stormcloud leapt from the tall grass – pouncing at the sunning creature. However, the white animal was not as oblivious as it might appear: in a flash it had flipped over and turned to face the storm which was now where the cloud had been moments ago. The storm appeared to be a creature much like the first, it’s body and six wings bearing stormcloud coloured feathers and ending in lightning yellow tips. The two leapt at each one another, both tackling the other to the ground. An intense contest for superiority then ensued, grappling and rolling in the dirt and grass.
Ultimately, the storm-creature came out on top – pinning the other and staring smugly down at its captive. “I win again, brother.”
“But you’re older and bigger, Hights!”
The storm chuckled and got off her brother. “Yeah, yeah. Well done on your awareness though. I am gladdened that you are no longer completely unaware of your surroundings.”
“Hey!” The cloudy creature shoved his sister’s shoulder. “… thanks…”
“Come now, Scapes, it’s time to stop lazing about in the sun. I found a good fruit tree not too far from here. You need to eat something for that growing body of yours.”
“You’re growing too!”
“And I will eat too,” Hights stated. She took the lead.
The siblings left the clearing, weaving their way between the dense trees. In spite of the twisted and tangled depths, Hights still navigated true. In a short time, they had found the fruit tree – the bright colours advertising their ripeness.
With a nimble leap, the stormcloud stood amongst the branches of the tree. She reached for the nearest fruit, plucking them and dropping them to her brother below. He caught them, laying them in a little heap while he awaited her return to the ground.
Once she’d picked several of the largest fruit, she jumped down and grinned at Scapes. “Eat up!” The two gorged themselves on the sweet bounty of the forest.
“You’ve made a quite a mess there.”
Scapes gave his sister an impish grin, juice dripping down his chin and between his claws as he swallowed the last of the fruit. He flicked some of the juice onto his sister’s face.
“Oi! Now we both need to clean up in the stream, you rascal!”
Scapes snickered and scampered off into the bushes, his sister in hot pursuit: two bundles of energy dashing through the forest. At the stream, he turned heel and splashed Hights with water. She returned fire, soaking him. A war of water-artillery ensued until they both lay panting in the water.
After regaining her breath, Hights took a long draught of water. Once she was done, she climbed out of the stream and dried herself, making a point of splashing Scapes in the process. She quickly retreated out of the range of potential retaliation. She began preening, neatening her ruffled feathers. Scapes followed suit but only made a cursory effort to neaten his feathers.
“I think we should find somewhere to stay tonight before it gets too late. You ready?” Hights queried. Her brother responded with a nod.
The two then set off once again, this time at a slower pace, examining their surroundings for suitable nesting spots. They needed to find a tree or two that would be comfortable to sleep in.
Suddenly, Hights brought their exploration to a halt. She backed up until she was behind the bush she had just been passing, then motioned for Scapes to stay quiet and peek over the bushes. A creature was grazing the grass in a clearing ahead of them. The siblings were not at the edge of the clearing, but could still see the creature well enough. The creature held a seemingly meek appearance: long thin legs supporting a body covered in soft, wood brown fur. All except the horns. The head of this creature was crowned with great twisted and gnarled growths that appeared more like the roots of an upturned tree than traditional horns.
“These guys are patrons of nature,” Hights whispered, “I’ve seen them before.”
“Just like we’re supposed to be patrons of the sky?”
“Yeah… Anyways, it’s not going to try to eat us, b-”
“I guessed that.”
“But we should still keep clear. I’ve seen what they can do to each other. I don’t want to find out if the other one was going easy on the trespasser. Let’s go around.”
The two took a long path around the deer before continuing their journey through the highlands – around the base of the mountain proper. They found a few decent trees, but they didn’t find any good ones. Since they had time, they kept searching.
A bone-chilling howl was carried across the skies, emanating from the edge of the forest and piercing into the depths. Even the birds paused their previously constant song as the forest sat in a silent fear for some time. Precious seconds passed before the forest slowly came back to life. The siblings dared to move again.
“What was that?” Scapes’ voice quivered as he half-whispered his question.
“I don’t know.”
Another howl. This one deeper into the forest. And another, further up the mountain. Every creature in the forest knew what this meant. Even the creatures that were not of the forest knew on some instinctive level what this meant. None knew who it was, but someone was going to die today. The hunt was on.
Hights’ voice was strained as if she was struggling to breathe. “Run.”
The pair bolted, sprinting through the forest as fast as their suddenly very inadequate legs could carry them. Leaves and vines whipped their faces, shrubbery and branches scratched at them, but they did not care – they fled.
Howls rung across the forest.
Slow as it may have seemed to them at the moment, they still ran with lightning speed. In their rush, they encountered the horned creature from before – almost running into it, but instead tripping and tumbling to the ground in their panicked stop.
The howls called.
The creature had also stopped. It turned around and faced the siblings, seeming like it was getting ready to attack.
Other howls responded.
“We’re running away too! We’ll leave you alone!” Hights called to it. No reaction. “Scapes, run! I’ll distract it!” She flared up her wings, trying to make herself appear bigger while her brother ran off into the forest. She jumped around the creature, making ostentatious movements with her wings – trying to keep it too intimidated or confused to attack.
Another howl swept the forest in fear.
The horned creature decided that this fight wasn’t worth it, then ran. Hights did the same, running off in the rough direction that her brother had. She ran and ran. Even when the birds began to sing again, she ran. But eventually, she had to stop. She still wanted to run, but her body couldn’t take it. She collapsed to the ground, waiting until her breathing slowed once again.
As much as she wanted to curl up and lie there forever, she was more concerned about her brother’s well-being. She forced herself to stand up and begin walking. She realised she had no idea where her brother would have gone. Maybe to the stream? No, that was too close to where they had been. Maybe to where they had spent the last night? Probably not – they did their best to leave no traces of themselves where they stayed each night. Or perhaps he had headed up the mountain – their kind was meant for the skies, so he might feel safer there? Definitely not – some of the howls had originated there.
She had an idea. It was risky, but finding her brother was worth the risk. She would make a call of her own – one that her Windchaser tribe had done to locate one another from long distances in the skies. Scapes should recognise it if he heard it. It was similar enough to the birds that the howling predators would take notice of it. Hopefully.
Hights took a deep breath, then released a high pitched cry, followed by two shorter, lower pitched ones and a final high pitched note. She waited, staring at the gaps of open skies between the trees. The birds sung, the insects hummed, but no one answered her. She made the call again and waited again.
This time, an identical call responded. It was quite some distance away, but she started to move in its direction. She moved slowly and cautiously, repeating the windchaser call every so often – confirming whether she was heading the right direction. The responses were getting closer to her too.
When at last she found her brother, she felt a tenseness leave her body and her heart leave her throat as she embraced him. It felt like she had held her breath this entire time and could only breathe now that she had found him. The two did not need to exchange words – both felt the other’s relief.
Together, they set off at a calm pace – heading away from the mountain and probably away from the howling terrors. It was beginning to get dark, so they eventually picked a tree where they’d settle for the night. The sibling leapt up into the branches of the tree, making themselves a home where they would spend the night and surely be safe from the beasts below.