Chapter 21 – The Last Endeavor
As the lizards closest to the sky, I brought myself to the desolate mountainside. Amidst the now settled rubble, new saplings were starting to spring up through the rocks, a sign of continuing life. The mountainside colony followed the example of the hardy saplings and continued to stay in the cold and sparsely treed climate. I was as proud of their diligence as I was pained for their continued suffering. The only consolation I could provide them as they worked through the aftermath of the calamity was my unwavering confidence in their fortitude.
If I gave them the sky, surely their suffering would decrease. I desperately desired that for them. Over time their primitive feathering had naturally gotten longer, and the slender hairlike bristles were starting to expand and thin, creating more cover with overlapping feathers for insulation.
As soon as I had seen the first young lizards born with feathers I had remembered birds. The only flying creatures here were small insects, along with another small lizard species in the forest obtaining the ability to lightly glide through the trees. Nothing soared overhead but the clouds. I could remember the desire and the envy I felt towards those creatures that flew so beautifully and freely through the sky.
But my memory of birds presented one issue. Their arms had served as their wings. I looked at the fruit of my first labor, their hands. Their hands made them powerful, and allowed them to do much more than the lesser creatures around them. Would I have to sacrifice those hands for them to take the sky? I didn’t want that. Was it too selfish of me to want them to keep their hands while they soar through the sky?
In the first place, perhaps it was too selfish for me to want the sky. They knew not the envy my people had held for that unreachable place. The only flying creatures here were viewed as little more than food, certainly not a thing to be envied. While I debated with myself, I did start the process with what I knew I could do.
The feathered lizards had the advantage of being smaller than their forest and shore siblings due to the harsh environment that didn’t allow for growth. Weight would be a large factor if flight were to be possible. Muscles were heavy, but so were bones. Thick, solid bones were not good for flight for large animals, that much I knew. They did not need to be thinner, that would make them too brittle. They needed to be hollow. Truly hollow bones would still have been too weak, so inside the cavities must be support structures, a system of internal pillars to strengthen them and continue to carry important nutrients throughout the body.
As I began to hollow the bones of developing lizards, I felt something strange. It was almost like a tingling feeling, except I had no body to tingle. What was this strange sensation, I wondered. With my other projects for the lizards complete, I was able to devote more of myself to the task of potential flight, but that feeling always lingered in the background as I worked. Having more of myself to devote to the task, it came much faster than the tending of gills, legs, and other such things when I had spread myself over many projects. Their feathers were already developing in a direction to be longer and more stiff, I merely helped those along.
Time was passing, and it was starting to become apparent I’d have to reach my final decision soon. Their bodies were getting lighter, but what purpose would it serve if it did not eventually lead to flight? I was still in turmoil with myself. Did flight lie upon my selfish whims, upon a bright future for my lizards, or somewhere in between? Did I truly want the sky for them, or did I want it for me? The envy for the sky was mine alone, that much I was aware of.
I sank back into myself. The pivotal point was coming soon. I must not be wavering when the time came. I let myself fall into the memories of my departed lizards, letting myself feel as they felt during life. They had their share of hardships and struggles, but underlying all that was a feeling of being content with their lot in life. They held ambitions for themselves and for their families, some realized, some not. But lofty goals out of their reach were few and far between.
I let myself wander to the lizards I had directly influenced. Bushtender had made a life for herself tending to her namesake, and she had been very happy. Firestarter, though his life had ended prematurely, had little motivation before the discovery of fire, but found his life given purpose after. And Starlight; I had wondered if she was burdened with the knowledge that there was something more out there, but when I let myself be one with her memory I found both burden and happiness in a delicate balance. She had carried the knowledge with her all her life, and at one point that knowledge had left her feeling betrayed. But in the end, she had come back to embrace it, for she had loved it all along, even if she could not understand it fully. Strong Light had been born influenced, and lived her life as she desired; strongly, powerfully, and beautifully.
And then, the Little Leader. He was the first, the origin of all my influence. He was so far departed from the lizards of the present, but his knowledge of sharing had catapulted all his kind into greatness. Had he not shared his knowledge, it is likely the lizards would still be little more than solitary wanderers content to find food and breed and hoping to live to the next day. They did not know they lacked knowledge and were content in it. But the Little Leader had shown them more. He had opened doors that could not be imagined. Because he possessed that knowledge, and because he freely gave that knowledge to his fellows, they had grown into the lizards I so dearly loved today.
I felt my determination solidify. They did not know the joy of the sky and were content in that. But I would show them. I would share with them the knowledge that lied beyond a horizon they could reach on their own. I would give them the wings to reach it.
The tingling sensation that had been remained a quiet buzz in the background became louder as I came to my conclusion. I could feel it in my entire being now. It was a warning. It was not a warning that the sky was out of reach, nor of an impending calamity that would occur. It came to warn me that this would be my last great endeavor. What a worthy endeavor it would be. From the depths of the water, through the dense forests, to the heights of the sky, my lizards would be free to roam as they desired. I would give them that final freedom.