Well toward midnight, the group came across a shallow hole in the side of a hill that led into a stump of a cave. The group collapsed at the edge of the darkness, neither eager to bury themselves in pitch-blackness nor be left out in the open.
Deck pulled his shift first, turning to the rest of the group. He helped Nat slide off of the golden wolf, allowing Yeller to turn human. “An bhfuil tú ceart go leor?” Yeller cradled him.
“Is mian liom go raibh mé marbh.” Nat curled into Yeller’s chest, slipping into delirium.
“He asleep?” Deck asked, squatting down next to them. Hana sat down next to them, using a wing to divert the rain from Yeller and Nat. Sun Hee and Zola were working to put together a fire ring in the cave. Benj trampled through the edge of the woods, collecting scrap sticks.
“Or unconscious,” Yeller ran a thumb along Nat’s cheekbone in worry. The man made no response.
“I wish I could get into his headspace and see what was going on. Why is his wolf talking to us, and ours are just wolves?” Deck stared at the waif.
Hey. Hey, human? Sven called into the darkness.
Sven? Nat responded on a thin tether.
Don’t go sinking into the abyss on me.
It feels pretty good down here; join me.
Why does your head hurt so much? I don’t like it.
No, like sharp needles type pain.
Nat? A new voice permeated his senses.
Deck? What are you doing here?
Holy fuck! Deck gulped in the inky blackness.
Nat rolled to blink up at the brightness of the midnight sky under shattered Polaris. “What did you do? That hurts,” he croaked, glaring at Deck through a headache.
Hana leaned over to touch Nat’s temple. Her fingers shattered his resolve. He curled closer into Yeller’s hold.
“Did the Flock touch you?” Hana glared at Deck.
“How do you think they got us in the cage?” he hissed.
“No, did one of you share a kiss or something like that?” Pink ran across her cheeks.
“What’s wrong with Nat?” Zola asked, emerging from the cave.
“This is your energy mark,” Hana cursed, looking up at Deck.
“What do you mean, my energy mark?” Deck squeaked.
“I mean, this star on his temple is an energy mark specially made by one person. It’s like a signature almost, but it transfers certain kinds of energy between one person and another,” the woman answered testily, touching the mark on Nat’s temple again. She motioned for Deck to move closer. He took a step. “So, who kissed you?”
Deck shook his head, then paused in shock. “Some of the people greeted us. They kissed us on the cheek….”
Hana sighed, rolling her eyes. Irritated, she snapped, “Figures. It’s something the Flock can do. My parents made us. They screwed with our genes to give us wings. In the midst of it, they did this…thing.” She waved her hand in annoyance. “So yeah, psychic powers of some sort. Looks like you aren’t the only creatures on the planet that are contagious. Here, I’ll show you. Sit still. This is easier on a stationary person.”
“Psychic? Your joking,” Zola protested.
“I just spoke to Nat in his mind, right, Nat?” Deck turned from Zola to the man in Yeller’s arms.
“Fucking hurt too. Now, while you two figure out how to fix this migraine, I’m gonna go hide in the farthest reaches of the cave where it feels like ice.” Nat shifted to leave Yeller’s hold.
“Easy, I’ll help you.” Yeller settled hands around the man’s waist.
Nat went to put his feet under him and immediately regretted all his decisions in life. The leaves slipped, a boulder landed in his stomach, and bile slicked his throat. “Maybe not.” He pushed the heels of his hands into his eyes, a shot of fire raging behind his left orbit. He could almost define the searing sensation as a strand of golden wire burying into the warbles of his brain. Sinking back to the ground, he buried his head into Yeller’s chest, looking for the blackness to take him away.
“Can I fix this?” Deck asked Hana.
“I’ve never figured out how to reverse it. Probably doesn’t help that he’s already in pain with those holes in his shoulders. All I can do is show you how I do it.” Hana shrugged, shaking her head.
“Throw it at me then. He’s not looking good.” Deck gestured.
“Hold still.” She studied him as she brought her concentration to focus. Narrowing her inner vision, she shut out everything within her hearing. In the swirling ink, she picked out a light from the swirling vortex and brought it before her. The bird-woman stared at it as it swirled and dipped. It emitted a radiance about it that lit up her face and her black eyes. Pulling her wings together, she used it as a shield, her feathers dancing under the swirls of power radiating from her.
Hana homed in on another presence in her small space. She directed the beam of light towards it, towards Deck. With it, she combined pain that stained the light a blackish purple. The woman lit it upon his left topmost abdominal muscle, where it whorled for a second before seeping into his skin, creating a jagged spiral.
A hand settled on her shoulder, bringing her out of her concentration. She looked up into Nat’s jade green eyes, watching as they swirled with an acid undertone. “You look just as bad as I feel. Are you going to be okay doing this?” the creature asked civilly, settling back against Yeller’s chest to set a tight hand over his host’s eyes once more.
“Just a little light-headed is all.” She flicked her gaze away to the woods. “I’m going to escape into the forest for a bit. I’ll bring back some firewood or something.” She rose.
“Be careful, Hana,” Sun Hee called from the cave mouth.
The winged woman waved as she took to the forest, leaving the group to handle the minor set-up of what little camp they could muster with no supplies and no clothes. The trees went on and on. There didn’t seem to be an end to them. The expanse rolled below her as a deep duvet. The clouds had evaporated, leaving behind a clear star-scattered sky.
She found a large enough branch on which to settle, folding her wings in to admire the view and wait out the headache she had coming on. A cold wind brushed at her feathers, asking her to go float. The stars shifted and purple haze burned at the edge of the horizon. A bird cooed in a tree branch above her. She sat back to quietly watch the creature flit between the branches while the sun rose.
Hana followed the bird off the branch and into the air. She breathed a sigh of relief as freedom brushed across her wings. The valley stretched into the distance until it ran into snow-topped mountains. Birds hopped from tree to tree, causing sections of the forest to lift and settle in the orange clouds.
“Probably should head back,” she told a raven that joined her in her flight. She caught an updraft and turned to wing back to the cave, keeping close to the canopy. She spotted a dashing pair of rabbits on her way back. With trial and error, she was able to nab one of the creatures for their dinner that evening.
Sun Hee was the first one to greet her, worry fretting her fingers. “Deck’s been sick ever since you set that mark on him. What is it?” She pointed a nervous glance toward the cave entrance where everyone else had settled.
Hana sank next to the fire and motioned for Sun Hee to join her. “I’ve been able to do this since I was really young. I was engineered in a lab. Born with the wings. Figured out the power marks are an emotion thing. We can set them on people, sort of a telepathic link. Usually, it’s just one emotion. Deck’s direct connection to Nat is weird. The guy I was paying rent to – you probably didn’t notice the white dagger-shaped scar on his forehead?” she asked. Sun Hee shook her head, but then a light bulb turned on in her eyes, and she nodded.
“Really?” Hana cocked an eyebrow. “It was terror. Every time he would get near me from that point on, if I was terrified, he would have that feeling permeating through him. Because he didn’t know it was my own emotions, he was, hopefully, convinced it was his. It helped keep him away more.” She wrapped her wings around her to drive the chill-out.
“What did you place on Deck, then?” Sun Hee asked.
“Pain.” Hana stared at the fire sullenly.
Sun Hee recoiled. “Why would you put that on him?” she hissed.
“If I’m in trouble, he’ll know.” Hana flicked a stick into the fire to watch it catch. “It spreads the load out too. So, if I’m terrified, that guy still gets some of my load. Deck’ll probably always feel when I’m in pain, but I won’t be in as much pain.”
“Pain and terror,” Sun Hee contemplated, “you leave extreme feelings that can be shared.”
“That’s my understanding of it. I’m not sure about Deck and Nat’s link.” Hana rubbed a hand over her face to pull the hair off the back of her neck, letting the chill of late winter blow against her feathers.
Zola emerged from the cave and sat down by them, wanting to know what they were talking about.
“I was asking Hana to explain the power mark she left on Deck and Nat’s star,” Sun Hee turned to her friend.
“Can you only place one mark of one emotion?” Zola tucked her hands into her sleeves.
“I don’t honestly know. There are different nuances of emotions. Like you’re happy, excited, overjoyed, happy to the point of crying. You see where I’m going with that, right?” Hana picked at her wings absently.
“I think so. Can place annoyance, mad, angry, terrified, fearful, worried, etc.?” Zola replied. “Yeah, at least, that’s my impression,” Hana said.
“How do you do it?” Sun Hee asked. “Show me. Those people did that whole cheek kissing greeting thing with all of us, so we’re probably able to do it to like Deck.” She pressed, excited.
Hana rested her head in her chin and studied the woman next to her. “Not sure how to explain it. I showed it to Deck, but he did it to Nat on accident. Sure, um…go into your mind, like a third eye and look for a pinpoint of light. Find your, I don’t know, pit of emotions. Don’t let them consume you; pick one out. Find it and understand completely what that emotion is, its shape, its feelings, its colour. Understand the context with which you would ever access that emotion. Know that you will be sharing that emotion with the person you leave your mark on permanently. At least, I don’t know how to undo it. It takes the edge off of your emotion when you place it. You aren’t completely consumed by it,” she told them to the best of her abilities.
“Show us,” Sun Hee demanded, intrigued.
“Deck and Benj will have my head,” Hana protested.
“Well then, don’t make it a bad emotion,” Sun Hee pushed.
“Like what then?” Hana asked.
“Well, pick an emotion you’ve been dealing with recently, and we’ll see what that does.” Sun Hee scooted closer.
“Do you want it too, Zola?” Hana turned to the other woman.
“It would be good to know how to set one if I need to.” A malicious smile floated across the tawny woman’s face, her teeth stark in the afternoon light.
Hana nodded and proceeded down the long black tunnel of her mind, talking through her actions as she did so. She searched out the emotions that had hammered her hardest recently. She knew the one she was looking for. The bird-woman knew that this one would ease her burden if she could figure out how to split it between her two compatriots. Hana found it, curled in a small ball in the recesses of her brain, warm and red. It pulsed and tingled. Her fingertips burned with the need to touch, to be touched.
She studied its shape and its residue, its effects. It took longer to understand it than pain and terror. It took more will, but she was able to peel away a portion of it – the edge, a shard of desire. Wings droop with exhaustion, she directed the lights at both Zola and Sun Hee. It was more difficult than setting one mark, but one so small, it was manageable. A brownish-red feather mark unfurled along the edge of the women’s left ears. Their hands went up to the warmth.
“Which one did you pick?” Sun Hee cupped her ear.
“Desire.” Hana smirked at the fire.
“Well, now, this’ll be fun,” Zola giggled. “Didn’t think about that type of mark.”
“For now, though, I’m worn out. I’m going to go down to the stream that I found a ways back and take a quick bath, see if I can clear my head,” she told them as she rose to leave.
“You just came back a few minutes ago, and it’s freezing!” they both protested.
“It’s all right, a quick dip. I smell like a dead rabbit, and it’s gross,” Hana tried to reassure them. The two women waved her off, chatting in low voices to each other about how the process worked from their observations on their end.
Chapel Orahamm (C) 2022-2023. All Rights Reserved.
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