It was a fated encounter, if you believed in fate. If you didn’t, it was still fated because Bird was Bird and there were only so many times Erin could distract him with a plate of hot fried duck, or an egg sunny side up. It so happened that the fated day in question was when Bevussa Slenderscale had stopped by Erin’s inn for another round of negotiations with the Halfseekers.
It wasn’t something the Garuda looked forwards to, so she’d ordered a dark lager of whatever Erin had on tap to take the edge off. The request had stumped Erin and she’d gone behind the counter to stare at kegs while Bevussa waited. The Garuda tapped the table, wondering when Jelaqua would appear and they could begin haggling. Apparently the Selphid was out and about Liscor, and Bevussa intended to drink until she came back.
Sparingly. Negotiations between Gold-rank Captains were a tricky affair and Bevussa needed a clear head, especially since alcohol ran through Garudas a lot faster than other races. Selphids were champions at digesting alcohol unfortunately, so Jelaqua could drink all she wanted and only get drunk if she chose. But Bevussa needed some kind of relief.
“Everyone’s so damn tense about what artifacts they’re going to get. And how much gold. I’m losing feathers over this, and I’m certain our team’s actually going to get an artifact.”
Bevussa complained to Erin as she sat at the table. She heard a muffled voice.
“Uh huh. It’s tough to negotiate?”
“Yes! I don’t know how Jelaqua is so calm about it all of a sudden. Now she’s playing hard—it’s like she’s not even worried about the gold! Something’s happened with her. And Griffon Hunt. Do you know anything about it?”
“The way Jelaqua’s acting—”
The Garuda raised her voice and then gave up. No one was in the inn at midday—Erin’s inn still seemed to only have a rush around dinner, when the Players of Celum stopped by. Or maybe everyone was in Celum, experiencing the sunshine. She grumbled to herself instead.
“Everyone gets upset! And you can’t argue with Keldrass when he’s pissed—he just smokes you out! I know Jelaqua’s after the armor, but I was hoping she’d withdraw her claim on the light-spelled shortsword. Hey, do you have a lager? I can get another drink if you’re out!”
“Um…I think so! What color is a dark lager supposed to be? Purple?”
“Purple? No, it’ll be dark brown, blackish! Do you have a purple beer back there?”
“Well, the light’s not so good—maybe?”
“Can I try it?”
“Sure—ow! Hold on, let me get a mug!”
Bevussa sat back as she heard Erin bang about. She glanced towards both doors surreptitiously, but Jelaqua didn’t magically appear. Bevussa sighed, drummed her talons on the table, and then turned her head. She saw an Antinium Worker’s face two inches from her own.
“Hello, I am Bird.”
“Ancestors save me!”
Bevussa shouted and nearly fell out of her chair. She flapped her wings to keep her balance and heard Erin exclaim.
“What? What’s happening? Ow!”
There was a thump as Erin smacked her head on the bar’s counter. Bevussa leaned back in her chair. Bird hadn’t moved.
“Hello, I am Bird.”
Bevussa cleared her throat.
“Hello. You are a bird, yes?”
The Garuda stared at him. Then she turned her head.
“Uh, Erin? Your Antinium Worker is saying hi to me. And he’s asking if I’m a bird.”
“Oh no. Bird!”
Erin shot up from behind the counter. She waved the mug in her hands frantically.
“Put down the bow! Don’t shoot—oh good.”
Bird turned. The Worker was not holding his bow, as was customary. Instead he was holding something strange in his hand. Bevussa blinked. All four of the Worker’s hands were clutching a mess of…
“Yes. They are goose feathers. Would you trade them with me?”
Bird offered the feathers to Bevussa. She hesitated and reached out to take one, then stopped. The Garuda looked around, suspecting a prank. Erin on the other hand knew better and rushed forwards.
“Bird, no! Bevussa, I’m sorry. Let me handle this. Bird, you know what I said about bothering Bevussa.”
“But I put away my bow.”
“Yeah, but you can’t just—why are you holding feathers?”
“To trade. I am told trading is a perfectly acceptable form of barter. I wish to trade.”
“But—hold on, are those from the pillows in your room?”
Erin stared at Bird. She scratched her head, stared at the feathers, then decided to drop the issue. She folded her arms and looked sternly at the Worker.
“Bird, I know you really like…well, birds. But Bevussa’s busy and you can’t bother her. Especially about birds.”
“Oh. I am sorry.”
Bird physically drooped. His antennae sagged and he turned around and began to shuffle towards the stairs. Bevussa, who was still completely confused, felt bad and called out.
“Hold on, Erin. Why can’t uh, Bird speak with me?”
The [Innkeeper] turned. She hesitated as Bird stopped hopefully.
“It’s complicated. Bevussa, I really don’t know how to explain this, but Bird’s…well, he’s not like the other Antinium.”
“That is correct. I am Bird.”
“Right! And I don’t want to alarm you, but he really like birds. And I thought that y’know, since you have wings…”
Bevussa laughed lightly.
“Oh come on. It can’t be worse than what I get from Drakes all the time. Let Bird sit with me. I’ll share a drink with him.”
Erin visibly hesitated. She looked from Bevussa to Bird and the Garuda got the feeling that Erin was doing some rapid risk-assessment.
“Are you sure? I mean, if you’re willing that’d be great. Bird really wanted to meet you, but me and Klbkch and Pawn and Belgrade and Anand all thought—if he says or does anything weird, you can tell him not to. And I’ll be over here…”
Amused, the Garuda waved Erin back to the bar.
“Sure. Just sort out which barrel has what. Come on, Bird. Sit down.”
“Are you sure? Miss Erin told me not to bother you if you are busy. Are you busy?”
Bird hesitated as Bevussa drew up a stool. The Garuda frowned as she gave Erin a quick glance. The [Innkeeper] gave Bevussa a mixture of hand gesture and facial expressions only a Goblin could interpret. The Gold-rank adventurer gave up on interpreting it and looked at Bird.
“Oh. Good. Then I will bother you.”
Bird sat down instantly in the chair across from Bevussa. He stared at her. He was still holding the feathers. Bevussa stared at them, and then at Bird. She coughed.
“So…sorry about that. Nice to meet you. We’ve never formally been introduced, have we? I’ve seen you around, I mean, but—I’m Bevussa, Gold-rank, and uh, second-in-command of the Wings of Pallass.”
“I am Bird. I am a Worker in the Hive only now I am an Individual. I work in Miss Erin’s inn.”
“I’ve…noticed. Have you worked here long?”
The Worker shook his head.
“No. I was assigned to Miss Erin’s inn by Revalantor Klbkch as a matter of security and to protect Miss Erin and to act in a capacity which I am not allowed to inform you about. I have only been here for a little while, but I have my own room and a tower to shoot birds from.”
“Birds as in…other birds. Not you, right?”
“That is correct. I am Bird. I hunt birds. With my bow. It is in my room.”
Bevussa blinked. She looked around for Erin and heard swearing as Erin tried to wrestle with a keg under the counter. Bevussa rubbed at her forehead and began to understand what Erin had meant.
“Okay, I think I get what you’re saying. Your name is Bird. But you’re a hunter.”
“That is correct. I am a [Hunter]. I hunt birds.”
“…Why did you name yourself Bird?”
The Worker shrugged.
“I like birds. Should I not name myself Bird?”
“Well, you have to admit it’s confusing.”
Bird tilted his head back and forth. Bevussa stared at him and then turned and called to Erin.
“Hey, how’s that drink going?”
“I dunno! Do you put wine in kegs? Cause this looks like wine!”
The Garuda debated asking for a glass regardless, then decided that she wasn’t that desperate. Yet. She turned back to Bird and tried to make sense of it all.
“You just liked to call yourself Bird, is that it? That’s fair. I guess.”
“Yes. But I am also named Bird after Henry Edward Bird, who played chess and was important. He was a Human who invented the Bird’s Opening and Bird’s Defense in chess.”
Bevussa put her head on the table.
“I’m so confused.”
She just wanted a drink. Bevussa’s head lay on the table for all of three seconds, until she felt a very tentative touch on the back of her head. She looked up immediately and Bird snatched his hand back.
“Don’t touch the feathers.”
“I am sorry. They were very pretty.”
“Yeah, and they’re mine. You don’t see me pulling your antennae.”
“I am sorry.”
Bird looked down at his hands. He seemed to shrink. Bevussa’s fury instantly cooled off. She stared at Bird.
“Hey, sorry. I just thought you were one of those creepy Drakes who—it’s okay.”
“But it is not because you said so. I am sorry.”
The Worker stared at his hands. Bevussa looked around helplessly. She was about to shout at Erin that she really needed her at the table rather than a drink, and then a few things clicked in her head. Something Erin had mentioned. She stared back at Bird.
“How old are you, Bird?”
“Oh. I am two. I will be three sometime in the fall.”
Bird brightened up. Bevussa stared at him.
“Yes. I am old for a Worker. Most die when they are around two years old. Due to monsters eating them. We are rotated to the front lines often. I did not die, and now I am at Miss Erin’s inn, where there are monsters too sometimes. But I have not died yet, so that is good.”
Bird nodded happily. Bevussa stared at him. Then she sat back in her chair.
“Oh. Oh. And you’re—the Antinium are really—Ancestors, I had no idea! And—hey, can all Workers speak? Do they all have names?”
She looked at Bird. He shook his head.
“No. Most Workers have no names. If they did, they would be Individual. And if you ask them and they do not, they would be Aberration.”
“That is a very bad thing. Aberrations kill other Workers. They say not-good things about the Queen and Revalantor Klbkch comes and kills them. Or Soldiers do.”
“So they’re criminals?”
The Worker hesitated.
“I…do not think so. They are just upset.”
The Garuda tried to square that with what she’d heard of the Antinium. Aberrations—yes, she’d heard of the Antinium going berserk, but that was in battle. And you almost never saw Antinium outside of their Hives, and obviously no one ever went near an Antinium Hive unless you wanted to die. Except in Liscor, the strange city that had welcomed them. She’d heard stories—
But Bird seemed alright. Strange as a shaved Gnoll, and half as sane, but for a two year old, she thought he was doing well. Armed with that knowledge, Bevussa smiled more comfortably at Bird.
“Okay, so you like birds. You enjoy hunting them?”
And like that Bevussa opened the floodgates. Bird sat up, his multi-faceted eyes shining.
“Yes. very much. I shoot birds all day. All night too. I have a new bow that my Queen gave me, and it is very strong. I have shot many birds with it, only I can only shoot them in Celum because there are not many birds in the rain. I have been hoping to see water birds which must surely exist, but I have not seen any yet. I think they may be invisible, and Belgrade tells me they do not exist, but then Pawn came over and said they may exist, and Erin said they might as well so I am still looking for them. Have you seen water birds?”
“Water birds? Do you mean…flying fish? Or—or swimming birds?”
Bird stared at Bevussa.
“There are fish that fly?”
At this stage Bevussa wasn’t sure of anything in life. She sat back as Bird tried to describe what the elusive, and, Bevussa realized, probably imaginary, water birds looked like. She shook her head.
“I’ve never seen a bird made out of water. It sounds like something a [Mage] would summon.”
“Oh. Do you think I could find one to summon one for me?”
“To do what, exactly?”
Bird looked blankly at Bevussa.
“Shoot it of course. And then eat it.”
“That’s all you want to do?”
“Yes. I like shooting birds. And eating them.”
“But you call yourself Bird.”
“And you…like birds?”
“Yes. They are my favorite things. I like all birds.”
“Then why—no, wait, I’ve done this before. Okay. You like birds. Hey, I like birds too. Except for the aggressive types.”
Bird sat up. Erin screamed as a keg rolled over her foot. Both Bird and Bevussa looked over, but since it wasn’t anything serious they turned back to the conversation. Bevussa waved a taloned hand, relieved to be on firmer ground. Or rather, in clearer skies as the Garuda would say.
“Oh yeah. There are tons of angry birds in the sky. I guess Liscor doesn’t have many aggressive birds, huh? Oh wait—you do have Razorbeaks, don’t you?”
“Yes. Erin calls them Dino Birds. They are very big and sit in the grass.”
“I bet they do. And they love to swarm wounded animals and people. Nasty things, but not too deadly if you’ve got any kind of armor. But other birds…hm, no, I guess you would be okay up here. Now, around Pallass we’ve got some nasty fliers.”
“Ooh, like what?”
Bird leaned forwards. Bevussa ticked off species on her talons.
“Aside from the regular birds—that is to say, the ones that don’t have a taste for meat or can’t shoot lightning? Well, southern Izril has Wyverns, those are the big ones everyone knows about. Are they birds? Well, they’re death in the air. One drops on you and you’re dead. But I can see a Wyvern from miles away and they can’t maneuver at all. No, if I’m in the air I’m watching out for Vaas Beils.”
“What are they? Are they birds?”
“I mean, if you want to be charitable, yeah. They’re these large freaks with two sets of beaks—and teeth—that hunt out of clouds. Now, you’d think they’re divers from how big they are, but they’re not. Instead they scream with both beaks. It’s awful. It messes with your sense of direction and then they’re on top of you.”
“Ooh. What do they taste like?”
“I’ve never checked. I tend to stab them and let them drop. But I have tasted the other bird I have to fight a lot. Starlings.”
“Starlings? What powers do they have?”
“Powers? They’re not monsters. They’re just little black birds. I bet you’ve seen them! Only, you’ve probably never seen a swarm of them before.”
Bird edged closer to the table. Bevussa nodded, grimacing as she ran a talon down her beak.
“Worst things for any flier to run into. I had a group of Oldblood Drakes—kids, really, barely able to get off the ground. And we were flying over a forest when a swarm of starlings took offense. That’s the problem, see. They’re usually not aggressive, but when there are monsters in the sky, starlings learn to attack. And this lot went after us. Now, they’re tiny birds like I said, but there were thousands of them attacking all of us, trying to smash us on the ground. I barely got the Drakes down before the starlings took us out of the sky, and I still have scars—hell, one of the Drakes nearly lost an eye and I got blamed for the entire thing!”
Bevussa grimaced. Bird didn’t pay attention to her, though. He was dreamily staring off into the distance.
“That’s right. And they’re not the only ones. A lot of birds learn to fight against monsters. Or run. It’s the only way they survive being wiped out. Ever seen a group of eagles take on a Wyvern? It’s not all about size in the sky. And believe me, there’s a lot you ground folk never see.”
“Hah! Where should I start? How much do you have time for?”
Bevussa leaned back flapping her wings dismissively. But Bird edged closer. He fixed Bevussa with a pleading look.
“Everything. I want to hear everything.”
The Garuda woman stopped. She stared at Bird and saw in his eyes the purest and deepest interest she’d ever seen. Slowly she sat forwards.
“Well, alright. If you want me to talk about the sky—well, I’m a Garuda but I was born and raised by Drakes. They’re not good fliers, despite the Oldblood thing, but I’ve heard stories all my life and my family took me to the library. And I’ve met Garuda from Chandrar and they’ve got all the tales.”
“Tales like what?”
“Oh, of the sky of course! Wyverns and local birds aside, there are legends up there. Birds that hide behind clouds, special ones that only come out when the rainbows shine! Birds that can go higher than the tallest mountain, so high up they have to hold their breaths and fly with magic because the air’s too thin! And yes—even birds that live in the water. Some you have to fight, but others just…appear.”
“Appear? Like what?”
“Like, okay, there was this story I heard of a Garuda who got lost and found himself flying over the sea. He had no idea where land was and he was flying in circles, lower and lower, thinking he was going to fall and drown. And then he saw the air move and realized that there was something flying right beneath him! He looked down and saw something flash by. It went by so fast that he never saw it, but the slipstream dragged him for over ten miles, back towards the land!”
Bird sat transfixed, staring at Bevussa. He glanced out a window towards the rainy sky.
“Was it a bird?”
“Apparently. He swears it was twice as large as he was and had red slashes on its wings and a white body. And he’s not the only one who’s seen it. Apparently this bird travels around Chandrar, and there was a time when a bunch of Wistram Mages came to see if they could capture it. Hah, well, they didn’t get the attention of that bird, but they did manage to piss off one of the leviathans of the sky…”
She began talking. Telling Bird stories, some real, some made up, all told to her during her childhood and as she’d swapped tales as adventurers. It was strange. Bevussa had never met anyone else on the ground who loved tales of the sky as she did, but in Bird she found a greater fascination than even she had.
The Worker practically leaned over the table, drinking in every word she spoke. And when Bevussa’s throat ran dry, there was Erin at last with a dark lager and several bruises. Bevussa spoke for minutes, and then nearly two hours before she had to sit back.
“And? And? What bird is next?”
Bird bounced excitedly in his chair. Bevussa looked around. Erin was cleaning up her mess behind the counter. The Garuda coughed. Her mug was long empty.
“I’m a bit tired, Bird. Maybe let’s hold off on more stories? Hey Erin, can I get a refill?”
She waved her mug. Erin turned.
“Coming! Damn, where did I put the lager barrel? Uh oh, I’m getting déjà vu!”
Bird looked crestfallen. Bevussa felt bad, but she told herself not to fall for the Antinium’s disappointment. That was how he’d gotten the last fifteen tales out of her.
“I can always tell you a story later, Bird. And I’m sure the other adventurers have a few tales.”
“But you are an expert.”
“Because I have wings? Well yeah—”
“No, because you are a bird.”
Bevussa paused. She stared at Bird and checked out her blue and green plumage.
“Well, I guess if you want to be technical about it, Garuda are bird people. But uh…we’re not birds.”
It was actually a sore point with Bevussa. She’d been teased growing up and her species as a whole got too many bad bird jokes to count. No Garuda liked being called a bird. But Bird the Worker only cocked his head.
“But Miss Bevussa, you have wings.”
“And you fly.”
“Does that not make you a bird?”
Bevussa’s eyelid twitched. She took a few breaths.
“There’s more to flying and wings, Bird. Or rather, there’s a difference between—look, Garuda aren’t birds. We’re people! We’re not birds, just like a bat isn’t a bird.”
The Antinium digested that for a moment.
“Bats aren’t birds?”
“Why not? They have wings. And they fly.”
“Yeah, but—what about the moths?”
Bevussa stared at Bird. He stared back with purest certainty in his eyes. Bevussa scrubbed a talon through her feathers and then looked at Erin.
“Make that two lagers, Erin!”
“You got it! I think. It’ll be there eventually!”
Bevussa turned back to Bird, shaking her head. Erin was a good [Innkeeper]—probably the best one around Liscor, although she’d be in trouble if she moved to Pallass and ran up against some of the good ones there. Still, she was friendly, helpful, and she had a magic door. But her knowledge of alcohol was distressing. She looked at Bird.
“You want anything? It’s my treat.”
“No, I am fine, thank you.”
Bird shook his head. As he did, he shifted and Bevussa saw that he was still holding all of the goose feathers in his four hands. She had to point at them.
“Are you still holding those? What are they for, anyways?”
“For trading. I thought I could trade them.”
Bird pointed at Bevussa.
The Garuda paused.
And then Bevussa realized what Bird meant. She stared at her brilliant feathers and then looked at the broken and worn feathers he held. She wanted to laugh. But then she noticed how Bird looked at her feathers.
“You really like my feathers that much?”
“They are beautiful. I would trade all my pillows for one feather.”
Bird stared at Bevussa’s feathers. The Garuda preened a bit. She couldn’t help it. She hesitated, and then did something she’d never done, even for the rare Drakes she’d dated.
“I don’t think I need all your feathers, Bird. But I would be willing to trade one feather for all the ones you’re holding.”
The Antinium looked at Bevussa. She nodded, seeing the shining light in his gaze. Slowly, Bevussa reached for a stray feather she knew she’d lose soon. She winced a bit as she plucked it, but then handed it to Bird.
It was slightly bent and not in good shape. But Bird instantly let go of the feathers in his hands and pushed them towards Bevussa. He reached out and, with trembling hands, accepted the feather. He held it up and stared at it. Bevussa smiled.
“Do you like it?”
“It is wonderful.”
That was all Bird said. He held the feather up, staring at it. Bevussa grinned.
“It’s yours. Think of it as a memento. From one lover of the skies to another. Keep your other feathers. I uh, don’t want them.”
Bird looked up. He looked at Bevussa and then bowed his head.
“I will treasure it forever.”
And that was the magic of Bird. Bevussa had no doubt he would. She turned as Erin approached with two tankards in hand.
“What’s that? Oh—Bird, did you ask Bevussa for a feather? Bevussa, you didn’t have to give it to him!”
“I decided to, don’t worry, Erin.”
Bird protectively covered his feather as Erin sighed and put down the tankards on the table.
“Thank you for telling Bird all those stories. I’m sorry Jelaqua hasn’t appeared yet. I think she’s ogling dead Raskghar or something.”
The Garuda coughed and waved a talon.
“It’s no problem. I actually really enjoyed myself. And speaking of which—”
She’d heard someone coming towards Erin’s regular door outside. Bevussa turned expectantly and both Bird and Erin looked over. The door opened and Relc stepped through.
“Hey everyone! I’ve got my day off at last! Anyone got any food?”
Bevussa sighed. Erin smiled and Bird turned back to his feather. Relc looked slightly hurt as he wandered over.
“Hey, it’s me!”
Erin smiled at the Drake. He grinned.
“How’s it going? Hey, is that uh…Bird? And you’re—hey Miss, don’t I know you?”
The Drake grinned at Bevussa. The Gold-rank adventurer gave him a polite smile. Relc looked at Bevussa and then at Bird. His eyes widened.
“Hold on. This is the crazy one. And she’s—”
He pulled at Erin’s shoulder as she went to get him a drink. Bevussa frowned as Bird studied her feather. She could hear Relc whispering loudly to Erin as he pointed at her and Bird.
“Is that safe? Isn’t he like, y’know—”
Relc tapped the tide of his head. Erin smacked his arm down.
“Don’t be a jerk! He’s just Bird!”
“Yeah, but what does that mean?”
“What’s wrong with you meeting me, Bird?”
Bevussa looked at Bird. The Worker looked up.
“Miss Erin told me I am not allowed to bring my bow when I am around you. She says that if I hit you, I will be in big trouble forever. I cannot shoot at any of the Drakes either.”
“Hit us? Why would you—oh. They think you’ll shoot me because I’ve got wings! Because…I’m a bird? Oh, come on!”
Another piece of the puzzle fell into place. Bevussa smacked her head, then wondered if Erin and the others were really that racist. Then again—she glanced at Bird and realized their fears were well founded. The Antinium nodded.
“You have wings. And you fly. Thus you are a bird. But Erin has explained to me why I am not supposed to shoot you, so I will not. Unless you want me to?”
He glanced at Bevussa. The Gold-rank adventurer idly wondered what would happen if she said yes. It could be funny. Then she recalled the image of Bird sitting with a dozen dead monsters lying around him, feathered with arrows. She sat up and looked Bird in the eye very deliberately.
“I would not like you to, Bird. Ever.”
“Okay, Miss Bevussa.”
“Glad we got that straightened out.”
Bevussa breathed a sigh of relief. Then she had another thought. She glanced at Bird and smiled.
“I get the worry, but I can dodge arrows just fine. Even Halrac would have trouble hitting me on the wing. Anyways, you’re an ant-man. Technically you should be worried about me.”
Bird paused. He looked confused.
“Why would I worry about you, Miss Bevussa?”
The Garuda smiled.
“Well, I’m a bird. And you’re…an ant.”
“I am not an ant. I am an Antinium.”
“But you have a carapace.”
“Yes. But I am not an ant.”
“But you walk around.”
“Yes, but I am not an ant.”
“Are you sure? Ants walk around and they have carapaces. And just so you know…I have been known to snack on ants.”
Bird froze. He stared at Bevussa and then looked down at his body. He seemed to process Bevussa’s statement. Then he glanced at the bird woman again. Nervously. Bevussa licked the edges of her beak. Bird stared at her for a long moment and then edged away.
“I am not food.”
“Sure. And I’m not a bird.”
The two looked at each other. Then Bird stood up.
“I must go for reasons I have not come up with yet. Goodbye.”
He scurried towards the stairs, glancing behind him at Bevussa every few steps. She grinned, and then felt a bit bad.
“I hope I didn’t scare him.”
Erin came over with a mug of her own lager. She tasted it and made a face.
“He’ll be fine. I think it’s a good lesson for Bird. Hey, you gonna drink your beer? Because I’m not. This stuff tastes bad.”
Bevussa realized both of her drinks were in front of her, as yet untouched. She shook her head and lifted her mug to her beak.
“He’s not what I expected an Antinium to be. But I like him. He’s a child, but an adult. It—well, are all of them like him?”
“Not all. But they’re all a bit young and old at the same time.”
Erin stared sadly at Bird as he hurried up the stairs. He was clearly nervous, but he held the feather like the most precious thing in the world. Like his bow. The two women watched Bird disappear. Bevussa sat with her mug in her hands, thinking of the Antinium Wars, of all the Workers that no doubt lived in the Hives. She glanced at Erin. A hundred things raced through her mind, questions, statements, very few of which would change anything that was reality. She opened her mouth to choose one of them—
And a Drake slid into a seat next to Bevussa. Both she and Erin turned as Relc appeared. The Drake gave Bevussa a huge grin and flexed his arm a bit as he leaned over. He took a deep breath and then spoke in what he thought was a seductive tone to Bevussa.
“Hey, baby. Did you drop out of the sky? Because you look like a bird of paradise to me.”
He winked as he pointed two fingers at Bevussa. The Garuda stared at him, drink tilted towards her beak. Part of it began dribbling down her front as she and Erin just stared at Relc. He looked from face to face and then turned away.
“Damn it. I knew I shouldn’t have given all the good lines to Embria.”
He scuffed away. And Bird sat in his room. At first he hid in his fortress of fluff, but then he was no longer afraid. He sat and grew sleepy, and when he dreamed, it was not of Bevussa, but of the wondrous birds she’d described flying through the sky. He dreamed he was flying too, flying with a gigantic bow and shooting birds as large as clouds. And the green and blue feather lay beneath Bird’s pillow, the most precious thing in the world.