The bells and chimes did not wake Uyllulla or Onolliy; they’d been up all night. They knew what this day was. They could read the calendar and the sun as well as any adult.
They had borne three sons in Uyllulla’s first litter, only to lose one to a roc and the second to the fall. They had only their runt left, little Yilly, and today they had to accept that they might lose him.
“We can try again,” Onolliy whispered, rubbing his hand over Uyllulla’s pouch. “We can try again, my love, my rainfall.”
“We can,” she admitted. They looked over to Yilly’s bed-nook, to see him rubbing his eyes and blinking. “Wha… what’s all the noise?”
By his age, most kits knew about the First Wind. Most had been whispering in school, told by the older ones about their experience. They’d seen it coming, peeked out over their family’s ledge when the years before flew out. Yilly should have known. But Yilly was a lazy boy, a fat, sleepy kit who liked to read and preferred staying further in town, where the ledges weren’t so many and the wind didn’t really reach. Yilly had few friends, lazy, silly, kits like himself, low-level kits. The older ones didn’t bother with him. Why bother, Uyllulla had heard a few mutter, when they didn’t know she was near. He wouldn’t survive the First Wind.
“It’s the flying day, baby,” she told him. Her sashes felt heavy today; near her, her mate was moving just as slowly. “Your First Wind.”
“My…” His ears flattened and the skin around his eyes reddened. “I’m not old enough. I’m not ready!”
“You are.” Onolliy’s voice was flat and hard, rocky. “You are.”
Then there was no time for talking; the masked and wrapped Fliers burst through the door. Through the wild hoods, shaped like rocs and dragons and even stranger creatures, their voices echoed and trembled. Nobody would know who it was who had worn the mask; every flier without kits of the right age took part. Nobody would know, if their kit didn’t make it, who had pushed.
And they were pushing, grabbing Yilly by his wrists and shoulders, shoving him towards the edge. Their home, like all in their city, opened up broad and wide onto the canyon below. Yilly had never gotten within ten feet of the edge, not since his brother had fallen. He’d never gotten near any ledge since then.
He was screaming. Uyllulla was screaming, even though she knew this had to be. A creature with a mask like a snake-demon was pressing her against the wall, keeping her and Onolliy from her kit, as they dragged him to the edge.
“To live, you must fly,” they intoned. “To breathe, you must fly. To survive, you must take the first steps out. You must step into the air.”
“No, no, mother, father, nooooo,” he screamed. Uyllulla bit her fist to keep herself quiet.
“Let me watch,” she whispered to the snake, muttering around her fist. He nodded, but didn’t let them go until the others dragged Yilly into the void.
Their glides snapped open, and they carried him out, out into the air. Uyllulla and Onolliy lived high up in the city; there wouldn’t be any others to ruin Yilly’s flight. But it would be a long fall for him.
He struggled in their hands until he realized where he was, and then he grew still. Praying, maybe? He’d never been devout. It took too much work.
“Fly with the Wind,” Uyllulla whispered. “Catch the Wind, my son.”
The masked Fliers released him. He fell, fell, then snapped open his own glides, the long skin between arms and legs awkward. It slowed him, but he was spiraling, still going too fast, still falling towards the river.
“Watch,” Onolliy whispered. “Watch, my berry.” She watched.
She watched him fall, narrowly avoiding ruining a lower-level kit’s First Wind, narrowly avoiding being hit by another as they careened out of control. She watched him struggle, flapping his glides like a bird. She saw the river growing closer, with all its rocks. And then…
And then his bottom-level friends, with comfort and ease, grabbed his hands. Uyllulla couldn’t hear what they said, but the three of them shouted to him, and, guiding, pulling, half-carrying, they lifted him to the Wind.
She sagged against the wall, relieved, triste, happy, all at once. “He’s in their hands now.” He would live. He was no longer theirs to raise. And they could always try again.
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