TTD: Part 1, Chapter 2

“No,” I say, for the fourth time.

Tsis’swakeras, but she prefers Tsis, turns pleading eyes on me. “Please, please, please,” she begs. “Ma said I could!”

I shake my head. “Stop asking, and I won’t turn you into the Elder.”

Tsis goes full puppy-dog face, pursing her lips into a pouty expression. Her eyes widen as round as saucers and sparkle with fake innocence. She brings her hands together in front of her belly and tucks her chin down, looking up at me through thick lashes over her strikingly light eyes.

“You wouldn’t.”

She’s beyond adorable, I admit it, but I give her my best evil grin. “That trick only works on your parents.”

Her eyes narrow and she glares at me, the picture of indignant hurt. “Come on. Erikhó:wa, please?”

I put both hands on her shoulders and turn her around. I nudge her back toward the middle of the clearing with the other fledglings, and toward the other volunteers.

“Go try to con somebody else.”

She stomps away, probably cursing my name in the cute and not-quite-accurate way that fledgelings do. I get it. She is Spoiled with a capital S. Her parents are both older, and their other four children were born before the bombs dropped. They lost their fifth, like so many did after the bombs. They didn’t get pregnant again until Tsis. She’s their precious miracle hatchling, and she milks their doting for all she’s worth. 

Except I don’t think her Ma or her Da would give their permission for her to enter the canopy. They might indulge her every request, but they’re super overprotective, too.

Tsis goes to sulk amongst the others, sharing her woes with her trio of buddies. Leaving them to whisper about how they will surely fool me another time, I leave my position on the fringe of the clearing and sit by the reading nook.

In the middle of the fledgeling clearing, the ground splits along the middle, creating a shelf about three-and-a-half feet high at its tallest. The energetic fledgelings play along the edge, flinging themselves off in dramatic fashion in practice for flight. The quieter ones draw, weave, or read in the dip on the west side of the split. Lush moss covers the ground underneath because of how the water trickles down from the overhanging shelf. I’m too tall to fit under the nook, but it makes for a cozy and peaceful retreat for the wee ones from the antics of the boisterous fledgelings.

I don’t mind leaning up against the shelf and reading aloud. That’s my favorite thing when I volunteer. Interacting with the fledgelings who would rather be quiet and listen than play around makes me feel like I have real purpose, even though as a child I was the opposite. I couldn’t sit still for the life of me.

I read the first story, completely getting into it with the voices and everything, and am halfway into the second before I notice I can’t see Tsis. I pause, searching the clearing more closely. She really isn’t there, though.

There’s only fifteen minutes before the sun fully sets, and I have a good idea what she’s up to. I interrupt reading time, to disappointed aahs and ohs, and approach the Elder, who’s leading the youngest fledgelings through mana-eating games so they can practice.

“Excuse me, Elder,” I say.

She looks at me with kind eyes. “What is it Erikhó:wa?”

“Have you seen Tsis?” I ask.

She pivots on her feet, her eyes scanning both the ground and the trees, even though he’s not supposed to be airborne yet.

“No.” She frowns. “Her parents definitely dropped her off, though?”

I nod. “She’s been pestering me all evening about climbing into the canopy.”

The old raven rolls her eyes and shares a knowing grin with me. “I remember that aching feeling of missing out before my muscles could bear me in flight. The yearning.” She sighs and shakes her head. “Come. You and I will search for her on foot and feather.”

“Yes, Elder,” I say, trying hard not to take it personally that the yearning she remembered gnaws on me. Always will.

Well, would. I mean, I guess it still does, in a way? Because even though I can shift now, it’s not the same. I’ll never know what it is to fly just like ravens will never know what it is to walk on paws…

I fall into line behind the Elder as she informs the next oldest volunteer why we’re leaving. Then, we’re walking past the edge of the clearing. She shifts, I launch her into the air, and we take off in opposite directions. She spirals through the upper branches, expanding her circular pattern out from the clearing. 

Before I head into the trees, I take a moment to look at the trio of buddies Tsis left behind. They’re giggling together, heads bowed, but one little boy glances up to track the Elder’s flight, then his head darts toward the west. So I walk that way. 

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