Chapter 38 – Fly
I’m certain if I had still been lying in the depths of my addiction I would have missed it. The momentous occasion came not long after the Collector’s craft had spread throughout the colonies, replacing wooden and stone tools with hard, tempered metal. Learning the art of smelting was deduced quickly after working with the pre-smelted ore, and suddenly my lizards were finding all sorts of rocks that could be melted down and crafted into better, stronger, and harder ingots.
Through experimentation of all sorts of raw materials, they found a particular one on the riverbed. It wasn’t well suited to be smelted as that simply hardened it, and often trying to refire and work it from there cracked the fragile material. The clay beds had gone ignored until one ingenious lizard thought to use the malleable substance to make a specific shape. After it had dried into place, she had heated it, firming its shape, and a beautiful aesthetically pleasing bowl was made. Even the children grew to love playing with the clay, making small figures to play with.
Eventually, the idea that clay held its shape rather well led to the discovery of a ‘cast’ by which they could pour liquid metal into the hollow clay shape, and after it had cooled, break it open to find the hunk of metal in their desired shape. After a bit of refining, the tool was relatively pristine compared to the previously hand-molded works.
They were improving by leaps and bounds. It seemed as if they discovered something new almost every day from the advent of metalworking. By the time metalworking became a part of daily colony life, the forest across the river had finally begun to regrow. Life was returning to the land once razed by the volcano, and the lizards followed it, expanding their territories back into their original homeland. While that was an event to be celebrated, it was not the most important moment of the time.
It began with a tree. It was a rather tall tree in the reclaimed forest, likely one of the first to regrow out of the charred soot that eventually became fertilizer for the ground. The children of the new forest colony would often compete to see who could reach the highest point on the red-barked tree that stood at the edge of their colony. Playful flashes ran across their scales and feathers as they desperately climbed. Those from the original strain of lizards seemed to have the advantage as they possessed the strength to lift themselves from branch to branch. But those from the mountain colonies, rather than using the full force of their arm muscles to ascend, instead chose to rely upon their wing muscles. They would flap a few times to get a good leap, then hop onto the next elevated branch.
Using their unfinished wings for helpful leaps was nothing new, they had been doing so for generations. Even at the riverside colony it was a common game amongst the young, and helped them develop good climbing skills, useful in hunting and gathering. Inevitably, there were some unfortunate accidents. Despite warnings of caution, children rarely heeded them in their excitement, and periodically one would fall from a great height. The sorrowful mourning for the lost young who had yet to lead a full life was always heart breaking. The pain and sadness that passed through the family heart brought about a somber mood in the colony on those days.
And it appeared on this day the same tragedy would occur. As the children goaded each other on to ever higher heights, the branches began to thin. The light snap of twigs under their weight and the creak of branches sent chills through my heart, and I attempted to reach out to them to urge them into caution. But the children were having fun, and my warnings went ignored. A particularly small mountain lizard fell behind the rush of his forest cousins, but, through sheer perseverance, managed to make it to the upper branches with them. Although the same age, those with mountain-blood were predisposed to be smaller than the forest dwellers, not to mention those that lived uninhibited in the sea, and were always at a slight disadvantage for tree climbing. To many, small meant weak, so the mountain lizards always felt they had something to prove.
Perhaps that was why the small mountain child continued to climb past the point where the young forest lizards had stopped. They were all young, but not stupid. Even they realized you could only go so high in the trees before the branches were too small to hold you. But the mountain lizard was lighter, and thin branches that may not have held the weight of those from the forest didn’t even seem to sway under the pressure of the small feathered lizard. The others were amazed at the small one’s bravery, and soon flashes of caution turned to swirls and vocalizations of cheers, urging the lizard higher and higher.
With the branches so close together near the top, the small lizard had to keep his wings tucked in as much as possible so as not to snag his feathers. The colors on the scales of his cousins egged him on, and with a last small leap, he made it to the highest branch on the tallest tree in their colony.
But after only a second of staring at the tops of the trees in the regrown forest, any jubilation turned to terror as the branch immediately snapped. His feet tried to grip another branch, but only succeeded in pushing him far from the trunk, far from any hope of grasping a safety line. He only saw a mess of colors as he fell past his playmates. His hands tried to reach for branches, but he was falling too fast and only managed to grab handfuls of needle leaves.
It was too late. I could hardly bring myself to bear witness to another of these tragic events, but I was unable to shut eyes I did not have. As I opened my arms to receive him, and prayed for it to end with as little pain as possible, I was in no way prepared for the fate that awaited the small winged lizard.
The lizard youth twisted in the air, trying to right himself like a feline would during a long fall. Used to using his wings for help with balance, he opened them. Then, feeling the slight air resistance beneath his black, shining feathers, he naturally embraced the air and spread his wings out wide.
It felt like time had stopped. I could see each minute movement of his wings, every feather that braced itself again the wind, and I saw what he was instinctively trying to accomplish. I had waited for so long that I nearly forgot the reason I’d cultivated the wings in the first place.
I didn’t waste a second, and immediately dove into the young lizard, synchronizing myself with his body. I had just broken my vow that I would never again enter without permission, but to wait now would be to condemn him to death. I didn’t want to watch another youth die, not when they could be saved.
The first feeling that assaulted me was the overwhelming fear of death. It hit me like a strong tidal wave, attempting to pull my feet out from under me and drown me in its depths. But it was not my mission to comfort those feelings, not yet. I made myself focus on the body itself, choosing to ignore the raging fear; I braced myself against the wave and somehow found myself still standing.
I reached into all his extremities, his arms, legs, wings, and tail. I blinded myself to the erratic shifting colors as I embedded myself into every muscle. There was a new panic buried deep beneath the fear; he knew I was there. Even during his freefall, he could still feel there was another, though not entirely foreign, heart alongside his own. With time as my enemy, I could not send him soothing waves of comfort. Instead, I engendered an even stronger feeling, one to silence all other thoughts and bring our hearts together as one:
The fear which had permeated his entire body up to that point was suddenly flushed out with an onslaught of adrenaline. He wanted to survive, he wanted to live. Our desire for the same end bonded us together, and together we were one.
Still off center in his free fall, I helped him maneuver his wings to make the most of the air resistance and slow his descent, and flared out the several long feathers at the end of his tail. And once everything was in the perfect position, the air resistance that was slowing his fall suddenly turned into something entirely different: lift.
The shock to his body as it suddenly lifted caused his wings to falter, but with my aid they were quickly righted. With the angle of his wings, instead of going down, he was now going forward, gliding as the air moved over his feathers just so. The ground raced by below, but all too soon another obstacle stood in our way. Although not as tall as the one from which he fell, the trees of the forest were still comparably large, and now they interrupted the young lizard’s flight path straight ahead.
Rather than embracing for impact, one which would surely kill him at this speed, I felt him entrust his wings to me. His faith in me sparked a feeling I hadn’t had in a very, very long time, not in all my lizards’ lifetimes. It was the absolute trust of a child believing in their parent. My heart contracted only for an instant before exploding with vigor. I quickly angled the wings into a nearly vertical position and felt the young lizard twist his body to follow the motion. And just like that, we were past the first tree.
The forest of trees that before had seemed like an obstacle, now looked like a challenge. Together we slipped past each trunk and avoided every branch. It was terrifyingly exhilarating. He instinctively pumped his wings to create more lift, just like when he used them to jump to higher branches earlier. With my knowledge and his natural instinct, we were a team navigating a forest of danger. Dipping into a dive, pulling up to clear a branch, a flap here and there to keep the lift alive, and soon, we were clear of the trees to the open west end of the forest.
The open plain before us, looking at it from above was incredible. The young lizard was happy to be free from the danger, and eager to get onto land. But I noticed a large cloud to the north, a great puffy white cloud making its way over the plain to cast its shadow upon the earth. And it just so happened that over there, the black rock was exposed, free from the grassy sprigs and bushes where the plain met the forest. I urged him that direction. Although he didn’t understand the reasoning behind the destination, he trusted my judgement.
Having gotten a feel for it from battling the trees, he angled himself to the north, twisting his body with his wings, feeling the shape of the air as it caressed his feathers. He was a natural.
It didn’t take long to reach the exposed black rock. With the pieces of myself that existed in the world around us, I could feel it there. As we neared closer, I had the young lizard brace himself. He knew not for what, but was equally cautious and excited. Then, we entered the place where the light from the sun broke up the shadow of the cloud, and in that instant there was a rush of warm air. The powerful wind filled his wings like ship sails and lifted him high into the sky. Much like when he first met the full brunt of air resistance beneath his wings, he was shocked at the powerful feeling beneath them. But this time, instead of fearing it, he embraced it.
We circled the thermal several times gaining more altitude with every pass. The rush of wind against the feathers on his body filled him with freedom. His wings pumped with added vigor, eager to rise up and touch the clouds. But he would not rise that high this day. The thermal peaked only halfway to the white giant, and we had to continue to look at it from below. But that certainly wasn’t all there was to see.
We were up so high, it felt like we could see the whole world. It was breathtaking seeing it from his eyes. His heart thudded in his chest not only from the effort to get here, but from the world as it passed by below him. He felt light as he rode the wind, rarely needing to flap, and leisurely took in all the sights to be had. The forest, the plains, the river, the mountains in the distance. The horizon at the edge of the world. It was all his for the taking, and he relished in it. This was true freedom.
Soon, after the thrilling climb into the sky, he began to feel the first signs of fatigue, both mental and physical, and decided to go back to the forest below. Back to his family, so he could tell him all the wonders he had seen. This would not be his last time riding high in the sky, it was merely the first trip of many to the domain of the clouds. He would return soon enough.
And together, we flew.