"Dark Stag" - Chapter 2

“That’s because they are not like dogs. If you under stimulate a raptor, it’ll hate you. It won’t demand affection by giving you loving licks. It’s more likely to dive bomb you and scalp you.” I explained teasingly. It seemed like ever since I got here, it was the only thing I did. Explain, explain, explain…
“But every time I try to go in the enclosure, he attacks me. He won’t let me get close. He only allows me to bring him something to feed on and then he’s puffing up and hissing and charging at me.” Roi responded.
“Well, all raptors are territorial. You can’t blame an un-socialized bird for protecting the only area he knows. That’s like if two giants captured you and put you in an enclosure for the rest of your life. They never came around and every time they do, there’s uncertainty on what they will do. So as a matter of precaution, I run them away from the tiny area I call my own.” I laughed. He kept his seriousness. He simply stared at me, unsure if my words held any validity.
He pushed the door open, letting me into the enclosure first. He followed, closing the door swiftly after me. There it was a massive silver long wing, high on the perch of its enclosure. It was definitely an underactive bird. It was extremely plump from a lack of an energetic outlet, often eating… then perching.
It would look out of the mesh onto the pasture behind it, where it’d see other handlers and their raptors coursing the fields. There was no telling how it made the bird feel. Considering how intelligent it was, it maybe was confused, confused as to why these raptors chose to come back to these handlers when they could be free.
“This is sad.” I said. Roi looked at me perplexed. I extended my hand out, asking for the lamb. He handed it to me and proceeded.
“What are you about to do?” He asked.
“Something crazy…” I smiled.
The raptor watched me as still as a statue. I sat down on middle of the enclosure floor, placing the lamb onto my lap.
“Oh my god…” Roi said, “You’re gonna get raked so bad.”
The raptor continued to look at me. Its head bobbed wildly as I stared off, making my appearance as least threatening as possible. Not long after, the raptor dropped to the floor on spread wings. Its wings slowly retracted as its upright posture changed into a pounce-ready stance. It took a step forward, unsure if I’d make a move. Growing more confident, it took another step.
Suddenly, the bird darted towards me, its jaws snapping loudly around the head of the lamb. It then spread its wings, flapping hard to place distance between me and it. It landed about thirty feet away at the far end of its aviary. I still paid it no mind.
The powerful bird made quick work of the six pound lamb, using its sheer strength to tear large chunks off to swallow whole. Upon finishing, the bird’s eyes locked onto me. My actions seemed to confuse it. Never before had a human who entered its enclosure perched on the floor and did little apart from breathe.
Not feeling confident on the ground, it leapt onto the lower platform that ran the length of the enclosure. Slowly, it made its way around me assessing whether I was a threat. It seemed to have forgotten Roi, its owner, was standing at the door. The bird did this for several minutes. We were operating on its terms, and I would be more than patient with it.
I was waiting for the alert bird to relax with my presence. The only time it did this was when it leapt from the lower platforms to the upper ones and took its proud stance on top of the high perch, some fifty feet above my head. I began whistling triplets followed by a downward scaling trill. The bird looked at me but this time, with no alertness. It returned the whistle.
We exchanged whistles for several minutes until the bird glided from its perch to the ground. Without any hesitation or haste, it walked over to me looking at my hands. It began picking at them with its beak, the same way Bazahra would. This was a clear sign of boredom. With my free hand, I reached under my tunic. The bird became alert and ran to my rear, where I had reached for with my hand.
I pulled out a strong leather lure, one I braided the night before simply for this moment. The bird didn’t know what it was but was intrigued. I twirled the lure and the bird began bobbing its head, thinking the lure was food. I stopped twirling the lure and the bird grew tense with predatory desire. I reached out, placing the lure close to its beak. The bird’s nictitating membrane swept across its eyes as it chomped down on the lower. The powerful raptor began pulling with all its might.  Having no leverage, the over thirty pound bird began dragging me. I swept my legs out planting them firmly on the ground.
The bird was definitely into this powerful game of tug of war. It continued to tug for over twenty minutes, not relenting until finally the lure snapped. The bird then went sprinting across the enclosure, leaping from platform to platform. It then paused, staring outside into the pasture. Handlers with their eagles trained on the lure fields. The joy and exhilaration the raptor felt left as it realized again, it was trapped. It began making the faint distress hoots Bazahra would make when something was bothering her.
I remembered an arpeggio triplet that I made Bazahra associate with flapping. It was how I got her to strengthen her wing muscles. However, it was too early to introduce the long wing to this. It was now, in fact, time to leave. I got up and walked towards the door.
“Bye bye.” I said. The bird turned and gave a curious hoot that transitioned into a whistle. I looked at Roi who stood in shocked.
“Say it.” I whispered.
“Bye bye!” He said.
We left the room and headed towards the exit of the Aviary.
“I thought that bird was going to fucking destroy you.” He said.
“It’s really hard not to hate you for this.” I hissed.
“What?” He asked.
“That bird is so smart, smart enough to understand language but is cooped up in that Aviary. All of this could have been avoided by giving it some rather durable prey looking toys, and that enclosure is filthy! There are droppings everywhere! You wouldn’t want to live in your own shit, would you? That is a respiratory infection waiting to happen in such tight quarters and a bird never makes a recovery from respiratory infections! The sheer negligence…” I said then stopped mid sentence, remembering I was dealing with a prince.
“I’m just learning this stuff.” He pleaded.
“I mean,” I replied, pausing to regain my composure, “Where I come from, a raptor is more than just a pet, it is means for survival. It is damn near heart breaking to see these raptors used for sport, with no effort to build a relationship with them. I find that cruel…”
“So you can do that with all raptors?” He asked.
“Yes.” I said back dryly.
“Well to be honest, all forty raptors are problem raptors.” I said. I looked at him in shock.
“You expect me to train forty raptors? If they’re anything like the long wing then I’m stuck here for years!” I said.
“And what better do you have to do?” He asked, bluntly. It made me have a long evaluating pause.
“I did want to see the world. There are documented vultures far to the west with twenty five foot wing spans, ten feet long. I always wanted to sail there to see them.” I said.
“Vultures..?” He asked, disgusted by the idea.
“Vultures are beautiful animals, some of the most effortless soaring birds in the world. You have to be out your mind to be a raptor trainer but not appreciate the flight characteristics of vultures!” I retorted, drawn to anger once again.
“Well the vultures here are gross and every time something dies here, they are the first things to rip it apart. I shoot them every chance I get…..filthy damn animals.” He said. I gave him the bitterest, most venomous glare my eyes could muster. There was nothing left I could say. This boy was the equivalent to a monster, killing beautiful vultures, nature’s sanitation department. He lacked a true appreciation for raptors period.
We left the Aviary, parting paths. He was surprised that I wasn’t heading back with him.
“Wait…” He called out.
“What?” I asked, still not turning back.
“Where are you going?” He asked.
“I got to course Bazahra.” I said back, my tone dryer than desert quartz.
“Can I watch?” He asked.
“Sure.” I responded.
The walk to the stable was silent and awkward. I went over to Rejon who was bored in his pen, separate from the horses. He was not in any state to be ridden. He head butted me then slapped me with his black tongue. He wanted to stretch his legs so badly but his temperament around horses made him quite a danger to them.
“This thing is beautiful.” Roi said, mesmerized by Rejon’s shiny black mane. I looked at Roi, giving an eye roll. He caught it, looking at me, perplexed.
“Um…” He managed to say, somewhat at a loss for words. His arms folded tightly around his chest.
I went into the pin and picked up a brush. I began brushing Rejon who whistled in delight. His mane was tangled, being a jumbled mess of curly plush hair. Strangely, he loved the feeling of the tangles being un-kinked.
“I thought you said we were going to course your raptor.” Roi asked. Rejon looked at him, sniffing the air to familiarize himself with his scent.
“I’m trying to think. Rejon can’t be ridden. I might rip his stitches with the added pressure on his back. I usually ride on his back and course Bazahra that way, but since I can’t ride him, I’m faced with quite the challenge.” I clarified.
“What kind of coursing do you do?” He asked surprised, “And why won’t a horse work.” Rejon snorted a load of mucus onto Roi, simply for uttering the word. He then shook himself wildly.
“Easy,” I said to Rejon before addressing Roi, “Horses are slow. They don’t offer much of a challenge for a bird that can power through the sky at nearly a hundred miles an hour with little effort. Plus, Rejon loves being ridden in tight turns. It’s like killing two birds with one stone.”
“Why not use a hand lure?” He asked.
“A hand lure is for small raptors who hunt avian prey. She doesn’t like it very much because the target is so small and close to me. She thinks she’ll graze me with her talons so she refuses.”
“She refuses?”
“Yeah… I might just tell her to terrorize the gazelles but don’t kill them. She’d get bored with that if I’m not involved though. I have an idea.” I said.
“I could build some slings that launch a lure into the air as well as catch it, but I’d need two people.” I said.
“And what will that do?”
“While the lure is hurdling over the ground, she can course it and try to catch it. Every time she catches it, she’ll return it, kind of like avian fetch.”
“And what makes you think she’ll comply?”
“She loves new things. She’ll catch on right away.”
“Well you just put the most dangerous bird in the world through a deep therapy session so I have full faith in you.” He said.
“Help me brush him. He has a lot of tangles.” I demanded.
“He just blew snot all on me. I ain’t coming near that!” He protested. I laughed, not surprised by the response.
An hour had passed and I was back to my quarters, carrying several sheets of leather, accompanied by Roi. Bazahra came swooping in, running towards me as I plopped the leather sheets onto the table. I looked at her with a smile.
“We’re gonna make you a new game.” I said to her. She squawked, full of excitement.
“Food...” She demanded.
“Ah,” I said, rushing over to the kitchenette. In the sink was a freshly killed lamb that I placed there for whenever she got hungry. I tossed it across the room and the nimble bird leapt and caught it, talons first.  She slammed the baby gazelle to the ground and began shredding it with her beak.
“That’s just gross.” Roi said.
“That’s just nature.” I said. He looked at me, not pleased with my remark.
“You’re kind of…,” He began, “kind of mean.” I chuckled.
“I’m just not used to all of this,” I said as I began to cut the leather into thin strips, measuring by eye, “It feels like a completely different world. I’m used to having to fight a battle for everything that means something to me, and here nothing means anything to anyone. It’s just…wow.”
“What do you mean?” He asked defensively.
“I mean exactly what I stated. No one here appreciates all this luxury. If my grandmother saw this beautiful place, she’d faint. In fact this place goes against our beliefs. She’d refuse living here because her principal is to live how you work and work how you live. And she wouldn’t feel like she worked hard enough for this type of blessing. It’s a definite shock to how I was raised.” I explained.
“Wait, that…seriously?” He asked. I looked at him.
“Yes. Our way of living is very humble and reserved. We don’t ask for more than what we need. Not to mention, she thinks it’s a bad omen to own land. Land owned by humans tends to harbor spirits which causes… never mind.” I sighed, not really wanting to continue on.
“You don’t own land?”
“No owning land is just about illegal in Illisia.”
“So where do you live?”
“We build mobile shacks, easy to put up, easy to take down, migrating from one side of the plains to the next every year, following the migration of game.”
“That sounds tedious.” He said, shocked.
“It’s not if you’re raised that way early on. It instills the hard work trait in you. Sometimes I can’t sit still when I’m not active. I always have to have something to do.” I laughed.
“I can’t imagine myself ever living in the wild.” He cringed.
“And I never would have imagined myself being in a lavish court, but look where I am. Life has a way to fuck you over.” I joked. The prince smiled at me, pleased by my rather dry humor.
Hours had elapsed and we were back onto the field. Bazahra was circling over head. I had a paper journal, ready to write down descriptive details on the success of this. The sight of the journal made me sad.
“I can’t believe I have to start from scratch.” I sighed.
“What?” Roi asked.
“I used to write down everything relating to training raptors in my journal for future reference, maybe even to publish one day. But my journals were all in the saddle that fell off of Rejon the day he got shot.” I explained. I squatted down to write.
Prototype test one. I don’t even know if this sling is going to work…
Placing the weighted lure into the basket of the sling, I began twirling it as fast as I could. With a toss of the arm, the lure released from the basket, launched far out of sight.
“Damn, that thing works great!” Roi smiled.
“No it doesn’t.” I said, squatting down to right once again.
‘The lure is too small of a target. I need to quadruple the mass and give it more surface area. The next set of tests will be seeing how I can increase size without sacrificing range.’
“Why doesn’t it?” Roi asked.
“How could you, the other catcher see something so small, let alone be able to catch it. I need to rethink the design more.” I explained.
“Ooooh.” He said, seeing it from my perspective. I flipped the page, drawing another prototype. He dropped to his knees to watch me sketch.
“You can build that?” He asked.
“I built this sling off the top of my head. Of course I can build this!” I laughed.
Bazahra came gliding low above the ground, landing before us. Her sixteen foot wingspan startled Roi who was not paying attention to her coming in.
“Game no fun, lure too fast, can’t catch lure…” Bazahra squawked. She stood with the lure in her left foot. She then tossed it to me.
“Really…?” I asked with a smile. She nodded.
“What did she say?” Roi asked. It then dawned on me why people couldn’t understand her. She was speaking in Illisian while I was speaking in English. I paused to think, surprised at the fact that I got both languages mixed up. Then again, I was juggling four languages here.
“Was I just speaking English?” I asked, completely unsure. Roi looked at me confused.
“No.” He said.
“Oh my god…” I said, stopping what I was doing.
“What?” He asked with a smile.
“I’m mixing up languages. I’m sitting here thinking that Bazahra is speaking English when she’s speaking Illisian and I’ve been replying to her in Illisian thinking I’m speaking English. I think my mind is fried…” I laughed, falling back into the grass, warranting a laugh from Roi as well.
“How long has she been speaking?” Roi asked, looking at Bazahra.
“She’s been speaking for about four days now, a few words here and there but more and more every day.” I explained.
“Well then I’m not surprised you’re tripping up over languages. You said you speak English, Spanish, Arabic and Illisian.” He said, reassuringly.
“Well Illisian is a derivative of English so…I can see how I got the two mixed up. I think I need a break though. I don’t like making mishaps…” I said, clenching my head.
The young prince’s eyes kept scaling me from head to toe. His curious look eventually turned into one of scowling disgust.
“Get off the ground! Horses shit there…” He said. I leaned up looking at him.
“So....” I responded. A smile came across his face. It was definitely odd. My gut told me that this was going to take a turn soon…
The young prince wasn’t by any means ugly. He was a rather tall at six foot, one inch. He had bright milky skin with caramel freckles, highlighted by thick and extremely curly auburnish hair. His brow ridge was gorgeous, sculpted in a way that made the prince look inquisitive. Those eyes were round and cheerful, having a soft caramel color that one minute could be warm and inviting, and the next, be cold and icy. His cheek structure had a perkiness and forwardness to them that was almost feminine. They sloped down into some rather chubby jaws that gave him adorable boyish charm. His nose was rather thick and chiseled, but not overly large. It was a contrast to his lips which, for a westerner were large and pink.  They were lined by budding black hair and a soul patch. It all came down to a chin that was covered in thin brownish-red fuzz. Despite the sprouting facial hair, he still looked very young!
His pleasant aesthetics meant nothing. I was not interested in him, or anyone for the matter. The only relationship that mattered to me was connecting with Suroka. Suroka was the goddess of life, purity, and energy. In all honesty, there was no sign she existed but I didn’t care. I was raised to follow her teachings and ultimately I agreed with them. Premarital sex, drugs, piercings, neglecting one’s body all were against my views. Despite my views, I’d not hold it against anyone who does such…maybe except for neglecting one’s body. However, if their actions affect me, then it’d become a problem.
Roi would inevitably become that problem…  but when? Never could I engage in any sexual activity with anyone, let alone someone who obviously got a lot of sexual activity. That would mean I was nothing special, on top of being a taint! It would mean I could never connect with Suroka and my existence would be meaningless. I’d definitely have to be careful around him. Leading him on in any way could prove disastrous.
However, I didn’t worry about it for much longer. The day was incredibly busy but…fun. I worked with some of the problem short winged and broad winged raptors, flew them on lures and tightened the bond with their owners. These birds were well groomed, well fed, and quite reliable but the issue lay with their temperament. Their issue was different from Silver, the giant metallic long wing which was my main effort. The short wings were over stimulated, and like cats, would lash out with talons and beak snaps. Short wing raptors generally tolerated humans, not craving affection from them apart from lure training and the odd nape stroke here and there. The only reason they came back to their handlers was due to the meat the handlers had tasted much better than the meat they were trained to kill. In fact, these birds didn’t kill anything. They were simply trained to attack a lure and course, given meat as a reward. It undermined the reason these birds existed…
There was one large crimson backed goshawk, bored in her kennel. She stood two and a half feet tall, three feet long, with a wingspan just over six feet. Weighing six pounds, she was the size of a small eagle. I entered the kennel and untied her anklet from the post. It truly bothered me at the fact that she was tied up. I could tell she wasn’t too big of a problem.
Placing my forearm before her, she hopped onto the thick heavy glove, wings relaxed, ready to take wing. She stood eager for me to put on her hood. I walked out of the kennel, taken aback by what stood before my eyes. A tall, milky skinned, curly haired, fiercely chiseled, black leather sporting young man stood with a falcon on his mitt. He hooded his bird, turning to me.
“Good luck with that bird.” He smiled, leaving the Aviary. He was followed by other long wingers wearing similar tight leather clothes. None were as gorgeous as him though. I definitely saw him before, but forgot who he was. My mind wouldn’t rest until it remembered who he was.
He sat next to the princess, the very strange one! He was Roi’s younger brother, the strange princess’s twin! Now it made sense, but… he didn’t look that good before. Maybe it was the leather hugging every inch of his marvelous frame. Still though, I had to focus!
Weakened by his rugged beauty, I walked out of the rear exit of the Aviary where the training stands were. I placed the goshawk on a bow and took her hood off. She squealed in excitement. Her wings flexed as she looked around the soft grass. She was ready to take wing.
Taking several steps back, I tucked a bechin into the palm of the glove. Her keen eyes locked onto the piece of red meat. As fast as her wings could carry her, she flew towards me, landing on my fist quickly gulping the four grams of meat.
“Bow.” I said. She flew back to her perch, wings hanging once again. She whistled quartets, unique for the species. She obviously was hungry. I placed another bechin onto my glove. This time she didn’t take off. She bobbed her head, waiting for a command.
“Wing.” I said. She leapt off the perch, flying inches above the ground, approaching forty miles an hour. Seemingly within the same second, she was on my fist, gulping down the meat. I stroked the feathers on her breast as she stood waiting for a command.
“Bow…” I said. She took off once again, flying back to the bow. I repeated this for several minutes, placing much more distance between she and I. Eventually, I ended up two hundred feet away. She got time to really flex her wings while getting quite a workout. However, she only flew so fast because she was hungry. Not to mention, she wasn’t flown daily, a big mistake for a short wing. Short wings were high energy, and must be flown until they are about to burst from exhaustion, daily. If not, they act rather clingy, giving the misconception that they need affection when in truth, they need exercise.
This was a classic physically under-stimulated bird but a very emotionally over-stimulated bird. It angered me as to why it wasn’t flown daily.
“Hey that’s my hawk!” I heard someone call out. A young man about seventeen or eighteen came running out of the rear of the aviary as his bird flew to the bow several hundred feet away. I looked him, full of cruel judgment.
“Why don’t you fly her daily?” I asked bluntly.
“I do fly her daily!” He said defensively.
“You’re lying. It’s why she’s all over you one minute and snappy the next. She is hardwired to fly and you need to do this with her at least an hour a day.” I responded.
“How do you know she does that?” He asked, shocked but intrigued.
“I know short wings. They are high energy and of all the raptors, they need to be flown daily for long periods. Not only that but they have the strongest prey drive of all raptors and must feel the exhilaration of the kill. I got to think of something for these short wings… This is just pathetic. Are all the short wings yours?” I asked, placing another bechin of meat onto the glove.
“No, I have two, this rufus back and a black sparrowhawk.” He said.
It’s thirteen damn short wings in that aviary. Who else has any? And why would you get a goshawk when you’re obviously not experienced enough to handle one? These are the birds for masters…you’re obviously not even an apprentice yet, making rookie mistakes like this!” I said with fire in my tone.
“It was a gift…I didn’t ask for the damn thing! I was going to sell her to a hunter because I couldn’t manage her like I could the micro.” He retorted.
“WING!” I yelled. The goshawk came back on stiff, almost automated wing beats, covering the distance at speeds steadily approaching forty miles an hour. She landed on my fist gulping down the meat, “There’s no reason you shouldn’t be pushing fifty miles an hour. I got to build you some wing strength.”
“You can tell speed just by eyeing the bird?” The boy asked amazed.
“Yeah, I’ve been doing this for twelve years.” I told him, “BOW!”                                               
“You look my age!” He said.
“I am your age.”
“You have a raptor?” He asked.
“What kind?”
“Long wing…”
“Oh, so you’re one of those bastards. I can’t stand the middle prince and his entourage. They prefer falcons, swift kites, and bat hawks and act like all other birds are inferior. But, they are some talented falconers, I must admit.” He said. I turned to look at him, unsure why he felt the need to group me with people I didn’t even know.
“No, I don’t affiliate with anyone here except the eldest prince. I’m helping him train his long wing which is arguably the only challenge here.”
“What kind of long wing do you have?” He asked.
“WING!” I yelled, the goshawk flying towards me landing onto my fist. I hooded the bird after it gulped down the meat and began making my way back to the Aviary, “I’m not sure what kind of long wing she is, but she has the fastest flat speed I’ve seen on a raptor. Her hunting style is like a mix between a falcon and a goshawk and so are her aesthetics.”
“Can I see her?” He asked. I turned to look at him as I opened the door. He was one of few people I’ve encountered so far with passion for ‘falconry’.
I put his raptor back on her perch and she began feaking on the long metal rod.
“Hey girl.” The boy said as he went in to pet her. The bird hissed and snapped its beak at her. He jumped back, frustrated with the bird. It was clear this happened a lot. I couldn’t help but laugh.
“That’s not wise.” I said.
“She used to let me pet her but now she doesn’t.” He sighed.
“Short wings are just not affectionate. Constant petting can come off as kind of threatening to such an alert raptor. Just fly her often and keep affection to a minimum and you should see a much happier bird. Feaking, that rubbing of her beak on an object is a sign of content.” I clarified.
“I’m Jon.” He said, extending out his hand. I shook it.
“Nice to meet you, Jon, call me Kijus.” I smiled.
“So when are you going to show me this raptor of yours?” He asked, smiling back.
“When can I stick my foot up the ass of the other short wing owners?”
“I’ll make sure they are all here tomorrow.” He said back, “I really want to see your raptor.”
“Come on then.”
I lead him through the front of the Aviary, surprised by the long wing horseback coursing that was going on. It was an elaborate game where a very trained long wing, a falconer and a horse teamed up with another rider and falcon to keep a lure away from another team. Since it was the end of the day, the raptors were not overheating and their training seemed immaculate. This was all very impressive.
Jon stood beside me with an eye roll.
“I hate them.” He said.
“They’re that bad?” I asked.
“They are just arrogant snobs, especially Richard. He thinks that because he’s the King’s son he can push everyone around. I just avoid him like he’s a nasty spill.” Jon answered.
“Well, lingering doesn’t seem like the brightest idea. Come on.” I said.
“You don’t keep your bird in the Aviary?” He asked.
“No, she doesn’t do well with tight quarters.” I said back.
“So how do you store her?” He continued.
“Store her?”
“She’s that well trained?”
“No, she’s that well brained,” I laughed, “She’s a smart little something and she’s very obedient, albeit on the timid side.”
“So she’s super smart? Like how smart, if you’d compare her to a child, how smart would she be?”
“It’s hard to say, maybe a ten or twelve year old child, maybe a five or six year old child. I haven’t really tested her mental prowess.” I responded looking up to the sky. It was getting dark and I knew she was going to come swooping in at any minute. Her silver body and swift speed often gave her unparalleled stealth. Most of the time, I wouldn’t even bother to search for her.
As predicted, she seemingly popped up out of nowhere coming forth on low hung wings at well over a hundred miles an hour. She dissipated her speed by spreading her wings and tail, flapping vigorously as she came close to us. She landed, having to run to get rid of the rest of the speed. Jon was not prepared to see such a magnificent creature.
“Whoa.” He said. I got right on the ground as she ran towards me ready to get a good tickling.
“These giant long wings are social birds. I wish there was more information on them but there simply isn’t. I’m forced to think she’s the last of her kind.” I sighed.
“I’m jealous…I want to do that to my bird but she’d bite the fuck out of me. If I piss her off bad enough, she’ll grip me and open me up like a parachute. Who’d have thought a six pound bird can be so damn vicious.” Jon joked, showing me the terrible scars on his arm.
“See, Bazahra is five times bigger than your goshawk. She can kill me easily and she knows she can…but I’d never give her reason to.” I explained.
“Damn, why would a bird need to kill something so much larger than itself?” He asked.
“Well, the ability to kill something larger than itself is a security measure to damn sure kill appropriately sized prey. I’m also guessing that since she’s so social with other raptors, her species would collaborate to hunt prey. I mean the biggest thing she’s taken down was a three hundred fifty pound waterbuck. Considering her hunting style, she probably could kill something twice as large.”
“A waterbuck? How did she manage to do that?” He asked, completely skeptical.
“It’s why I decided she’s a long wing. She doesn’t grapple with prey; she uses her talons to punch it at high speed. And when she went after the waterbuck, she was streaking through the sky! The thing didn’t even see her. Hell, I didn’t even see her. I just saw the poor antelope drop to the ground, fidgeting, blood leaking from its skull.”
“She punches prey? She has such long legs and a goshawk-like build. I would have expected her to wrestle prey until it’s dead.”
“She has before. I don’t encourage it at all though. For one, it prolongs the kill and she can cover a lot of ground and it can be hard for me to get to. Secondly it’s dangerous. She can get hurt and she’s the last of her kind and I’m not really willing to risk that. She’s done it only on small prey such as gazelle, hare, baby boar, and small ratites. She particularly likes tackling ratites then kicking them in the head to finish them off.”
“So how exactly does she punch? She flies in close pointed toes held near the body or does she do something unique?”
“She…” I said, still tickling the ruffled bird, “She does a high speed kick to the skull to kill instantly. She does the close body punch when she’s targeting prey from the side or behind and either wants to play with it while it’s still alive or doesn’t want to get hurt. I’ve also seen her dive in and pick prey upwards of a hundred pounds up off the ground to drop it and break its neck. She can be rather creative.”
“We have a secretary bird which often runs and kicks the lure rather than fly. We can’t get that thing to fly for much of anything. It’s just about as tall she is, maybe a little taller but your raptor much more robust.”
“Yeah, I’ve trained some four foot secretary birds to be snake killers for some Illisian farms on the far eastern border.  Secretary birds are another social animal. They love being around each other and they have a nice turn of speed on the ground yet still are amazing fliers.” I clarified.
“What raptors haven’t you trained?” He asked.
“I’ve read of a land far to the west… There are reports of giant raptors the size of ratites that run down prey. I’d want to train those. There are also reports of huge vultures with wings over twenty feet wide and I love training vultures. I also think that it could be the place where Bazahra is from. The land, I’ve been told is incredibly inhospitable, not because of the terrain but because the creatures there are unlike anything on this side of the world. I really want to go there.” I said.
“Well if you can find a way there find me before you leave because I’d love to go.” He smiled.
His demeanor then changed as his eyes locked onto someone approaching from the palace. I turned to view whom it was and it was Roi. I heard a very congested sigh from behind and turned to see Jon storming off. It became clear to me that he and Roi had history.
“Hey, I’ve been looking for you. Where’d you run off to?” He asked candidly.
“I’ve been getting a feel for all the birds today. This is going to be a long night so I’m gonna work out, sketch more blueprints and turn in for a few hours.” I explained.
He eyed Jon as the boy went to the aviary.
“You should sleep over in my room tonight. Show me some of your work.” He suggested.
“No, I like working alone. It lets me concentrate.” I refused. He placed his hand on my shoulder.
“I insist,” He said, not even making eye contact still looking at Jon, “I won’t make a sound. I just want to watch.”
“Sure?” I said back, knowing that it was now inevitable. I was going to get tried…  
I entered his room with all my material in my hand. For some reason, Bazahra was reluctant to come. It didn’t make me feel any better considering I could have used her to bail me out in some kind of way. This night was going to be brutal.
All my belongings were tossed onto the table. I looked around the room, it being elegant beyond elegant. The walls were a custardy yellow, lined with intricate white stripes with stencil work in them. The furniture was very Victorian and the floors were a contrast...Not stone but black wood planks, five inches across. The room also had several areas beyond sight. It was simply huge.
“You like it?” He asked.
“It’s more than what I’ll need on any given day.” I chuckled.
“You just need someone to spoil you a little.” He laughed. I looked at him, taken aback by his statement. It was a blatant hint at his true intentions. His laugh came to an end when he saw my seriousness. I gave a quick laugh to kill the searing awkwardness but I still was very uncomfortable.
“Let me give you a tour.” He said.
He twirled around the living space with his arms stretched out.
“This is my living range. I personally don’t spend time in here and it’s just for looks.” He said. He then led me to the rear of the room where a short hall was. Inside was his actual bedroom which continued the design language. The floors were black ebony wood, forming a step around the bed which was neatly kept. The linens had the same design as the walls. The pillows were a rich silky black, something I’ve never quite seen before. Again, there was another sitting area with some uncomfortable looking Victorian chairs and a small study.
“As you can tell, this is where I sleep.” He smiled, walking backwards past the study into another hall. I followed, surprised to see a huge study. Massive windows let in light from the pastures. On the rear wall were rows and rows of books. There also was a large work bench on the east wall. We continued to walk the study leading to a surprisingly lengthy hall. I could not imagine where this could lead to. This entire suite was an utter maze as is.
It was a tandem bathroom but huge. The designed was the typical cobbled rustic look of the rest of the palace. There were two massive granite tubs, two complex granite showers, two separate vanities and two doorways that lead to yet another segment. It was deeply relieving to know it was simply a giant closet and not some other pointless room.
“The king forces me to share this bathroom with my brother…” Roi said full of resentment. Clearly, he and his brother didn’t get along well.
At this point, I was very aggravated.
“OK,” I began, “So where am I going to sleep?” He looked lost.
“Anywhere you want really. I don’t mind.” He smiled. I just stared arms folded, reluctant to believe this boy was serious. It was hard to keep in the eye roll but I did.
“I need to get to work.” I sighed.
The walk back to the living range was frustratingly long. I reached the table, sorting through my things. I placed my change of clothes and toiletries to one side and looked at my art supplies. I had several rolls of cypress sheets that I was going to use for these blue prints. There also was gentle graphite and a ruler. I turned, bumping into Roi, dropping all the stuff to the floor. The gentle graphite shattered, frustrating me anymore. I sighed, scratching the back of my head, unsure why he wanted me in his room.
“Sorry!” He said, picking up the stuff and handing it back to me, “Where were you headed?”
“I don’t know, I guess the study.” I said.
A few hours into the night and I was deep into my concepts. I didn’t like the workbench so I was on the floor, down in a center split writing notes onto the paper and into my journal. Going back between the paper, my supplies and the journal I switched between a left leading leg split, middle split and right leading leg split. I soon was finished and could really focus on opening my body.
Still in a center split, I rolled up the cypress spreads and placed my journal into my bag. I then used my leg to push it all to the side, going back to the split. My breathing relaxed, my eyes closed, I felt the cool damp air entering my lungs. Finally, the stress left my body.
“Whoa…” I heard Roi say as he came from his bed quarters. My concentration dissipated as annoyance set in. I looked at him with a contrived, synthetic smile.
“This is what I do to open up channels and release stress. It clears the mind, just requires the utmost of quietness and concentration.” I said hinting at just how bad I wanted to leave me alone.
“Show me!” He demanded, getting onto the floor next to me. He tried spreading his legs into the center position but he could not arc them out.
“It takes a bit of practice to open up your pelvis.” I said.
“Why precisely do you do this?” He asked, full of curiosity.
“For one, it makes Rejon much easier to ride. It also makes you flexible for a variety of other things.” I said.
“Like what?” He asked, with a perilous curiosity. It made me pause, realizing I was leading him on. I had to think of something quick.
“For hand to hand combat… my father trained me extensively ever since I could walk. I was fighting before I could speak. Also for recessing hard terrain… the forests of Illisia can prove thick and it can take extreme flexibility to get out.” I explained.
“I want to learn more.” He said crawling towards me. I swung out of my split and crawled backwards. He pushed my stuff aside and smiled, “Why are you running?” There were no words that could manifest onto my tongue.
Eventually I backed into the wall, trapped. He continued to crawl towards me, creeping his fingers up my thighs. He came in for a kiss, grabbing my waist to pull me forward. The palm of my hand pushed his face away before his lips met mine. I then grabbed the dagger from his belt and kicked him off of me.
The boy stood up, seeing I was standing in front of the window the knife at my throat.
“Why fight it, I always get what I want in the end.” He said, not noticing the knife at my throat until he stepped forward.
“I am not,” I hissed, “Going to taint myself, becoming one of your many exploits! How dare you throw yourself on me, thinking I can succumb to petty seduction! I know your game! You’re the type to manipulate people into getting what you want from them and that won’t work on me, not in the slightest! I’d much rather bleed out on your floor than hand myself over to you!”  He just stared on, shocked and angered by my defiance. His fists were clenched tightly, being the first person to turn him down.
“Does this give you some type of fulfillment, thinking you shot me down? I bet you feel so proud now don’t you?” He asked. My eyes welled up with rage. He was so off basis it made me want to hurt him!
“This is the only thing that matters to you doesn’t it, getting off quick on somebody? You don’t FUCKING CARE ABOUT YOUR DAMN RAPTORS, OR THE DAMN PEOPLE YOU HURT!!!! AND I’M SITTING HERE TRYING TO HELP YOUR ASS OVER SOMETHING I THOUGHT YOU CARED ABOUT AND THE ONLY THING YOU’RE CONCERNED ABOUT IS GETTING OFF????” I screamed. The boy was enraged now. My words bit him as hard as his actions bit me. He looked off, deep in thought.
Seconds later, he looked back at me, eyes welling up on a mix of emotions. He was angry at the fact that I could see right through him, and was hit by the guilt of trying to get off on me when my intentions were innocent and pure. Probably the most though, he was frustrated that he didn’t get what he wanted and these anxieties were long in the build!
“Get out…” He demanded. 
I flung his dagger, the blade whizzing past his head. It embedded into a book on the bookcase, causing the boy to turn in shock. I reached for my stuff, grabbing my journal and leaving the rest behind. I left the elaborate maze of a room, going down a flight of stairs to my quarters. Bazahra was sitting on her perch, tense for whatever reason. She faced the window, staring out still as a statue.
“You ok?” I asked. She slowly turned around to look at me.
“Let’s leave…” She said.
“Don’t worry, we were going to.” I said back. She hopped down and walked to the door. I opened it for her. She walked out into the hall and turned back to me.
“No trust anyone here. All are bad people…” She said. I smiled.
We left the palace heading to the stable. Rejon was not mountable or even had a saddle. I didn’t know what to do but I definitely wasn’t about to stay in this place. As we made our way down the massive balcony, a sound caught my attention. I turned back and looked to see the same tall curly haired boy from the aviary, looking out over the stoop. It seemed he didn’t notice us making our escape.
“So he got you too?” He asked, leaning up with a chuckle.
“What?” I asked.
“Roi, he tried to get into your pants…” He said. I sighed, turning around, heading down the steps.
“WAIT!” The boy demanded. I stopped halfway down.
“What?” I said dryly.
“So you’re just going to leave him?” He asked teasingly, coming to the top of the stairs. The question made little sense to me.
“Why wouldn’t I? He doesn’t care for the raptors, he only cares for a quick fix. I refuse to be a pawn for sexual exploit. It goes against everything I believe in.” I said defensively. He took a seat on the steps.
“My brother and I,” He began, “Don’t see eye to eye on most things. He’s a timid kid, I’m a boisterous one. A lot of people don’t like me but my father loves my attitude and decided to give the inheritance because he has no faith in Roi. I used to belittle him over this for many years, making him feel like he was inferior to me…all while making him spiral into a darker place. I don’t know who introduced him to the outlet of…sex but it is one I’m no fan of. I didn’t even know he did that type of stuff until he and Jon had a huge fallout months ago. That was when my mother sat me down and told me to simply avoid my brother if I can’t be there for him. I did that… haven’t spoken to him since he and Jon fell apart, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t thought about him. My brother is hurting, it’s partly my fault and…I feel guilty. When I saw you yesterday, I knew what you were doing. You were avoiding him… Someone tipped you off that we’re some crazy people and you’re trying to play it as safe as possible. Well, truth be told, you might be the person who not only helps the raptors, but help my family… Don’t go…we might need you more than you can imagine.” I stood there dumbfounded.
“So…” I said, trying to rationalize despite being enraged, “You want me to stay to fix your familial issues? Well I can tell you crazy ass people what’s wrong with you! None of you appreciate these fortunes. I come from nothing! Luxuries like this aren’t even dreamed about by my people because they don’t even know luxuries like this are real! And how can I fix your brother? Give it up to him like all the others he trapped? I just want to get as far away from this place as possible, forget about this… I want to go home.”
“This place is that big of a shock to you, huh? You really want to leave that bad? I thought you were enjoying yourself.” He said innocently.
“The raptors are nice. They are the highlight, I guess. But I’m not so enthralled about you people! I already knew that the raptors weren’t going to be the challenge, it was going to be you people…” I sighed.
“You’re not a people person, I see?” He asked.
“Not at all. I was raised to keep to myself, my study, my craft, devote to my religion…” I said.
“I’m not going to lie. When you came, being the most exotic culturally different thing to ever grace the inner ring, I spent all night reading on your people’s culture. You all seriously stay virgins ‘til marriage?” He asked.
“Yes, it ruins our chances of going to the celestial plain and there are no second chances. Once you lose your virginity while not married, you sell yourself to the father of time and your life becomes finite. You then lose the immortal within, becoming a mortal and when you die in the tangible world…you simply die.” I explained.
“Well, damn…I see why you fought him off, if you believe that.” He said, feeling sympathetic.
“You know what happened?” I asked.
“Our rooms are connected. I hear all that goes on.” He laughed.
“Well,” I said, “Bye.” I walked down the stairs, heading across the pasture to the stables.
“Wait,” He said from the stoop, “You’re gonna need a map.” Stopping, I turned.
“How big is this place?” I asked.
“You’re going to need four maps!” He said.
“FOUR?!?!?!?” I asked.
“Wait one minute!” He said running back into the palace. Minutes later, he returned with four folded parcels, tossing them to me. I caught them, and waved good bye. 
Entering the stable, I placed the parcels on the table, opening them each. Each map was so complex, showing how intricate the city was. All and all, it was discouraging.    
“Hell no…” I said.


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