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User:FelixSagittarius/A Hawk Flying Free

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A Hawk Flying Free

Author: FelixSagittarius
2007 Xmas Exchange story universe

for Arrow Quivershaft

Arrow Quivershaft had spent the whole morning studying for his Finals, going over old tests, practicing, working with the numbers until they swam around instead of being in nice rows and columns. He shook his head and thought, "I need to get out of here for a bit. I think I'll go over and hike the Hill again, get some fresh air, then I'll be ready to hit this stuff later."

He checked the weather - always a smart thing to do in early winter, when sudden storms could easily blow in off the lake. Cold and breezy, but a nice sunny day otherwise. He put on his heavy jacket, gloves and thick wool watch cap, then picked up his favorite walking stick and headed out the door. He'd only be gone for a few minutes, so he left no message.

Outside, he crunched along on the light scrum of snow the storm had left two days ago. He felt much better, away from the stuffy heat of the house, and looked forward to a long walk. It was over a mile to the Hill, as everyone called it; a steep rise above the shore and surrounding plain. He whistled gently as he made his way to the foot of one of his favorite trails.

He looked up, measuring the path, then set to climbing. Being young and agile, he had no particular trouble going up, but he took his time and enjoyed the workout. The surrounding woods were beautiful with the snow and ice on the branches, and he wished he'd brought a camera. Coming to a wide space in the trail, he stopped to breath deeply and look around.

"Hmm, that's odd," he thought. "I've been through here hundreds of times but never saw that trail before." It was very faint, but the dusting of snow brought it out plainly. "I wonder where it goes?" He turned aside from the normal, well worn path leading up to the top, and began to follow the new trail. "Probably a deer path, and a new one," he thought.

The little trail wound its way along the side of the Hill, turning aside to pass bushes and trees, but otherwise straight. It took a little care to walk it on a steep stretch, but the young man thought nothing of danger, only of seeing where this trail went. He barely noticed the two large trees it led between...

A sudden feeling of dizziness, that something had changed. He looked around, but the Hill still looked the same. "Wow," he thought. "Wonder if I'm coming down with the Flu?" He shook his head, then continued on. He began to notice subtle changes - nothing quick, but a slow rise in the temperature. Soon he had to take off his jacket and gloves. While he was stopped doing this, he noticed something else - the trees were budding with new leaves! And a crocus! But...this was early winter, not spring!

"This is weird," he thought. "What the hell going on?" The snow on the trail had disappeared, but the trail had become clear, as if it were a regularly walked path. He looked back down it the way he'd come - and froze. There was an enormous boulder not a hundred feet behind him, and the trail plainly ran out of it. He walked back to it, then placed his hand on where he had to pass to get 'here'. Solid, cold stone. He made a slow careful circle around the rock, following a trail worn deep in the ground - nothing but stone.

"Damn, what the hell is happening?" he said. He froze as someone - something - replied. "Ah, a new one," it said. "It's been so long, I thought the way had become blocked. Please," - Arrow felt a strange sensation in his mind - "Arrow, follow the path. All will be made clear at its end."

Arrow shook his head. "This can't be happening," he thought. "It's like a story or something." He took a deep breath and looked around, feeling the breeze on his face, hearing it rustle through the branches of the trees. He took a drink from his water bottle, savoring the lemony taste in the cold liquid. "It all seems real," he thought. "Well, I obviously can't go back. Lets see where this trail runs." He slung the jacket over his back and started walking.

It got steadily warmer as he walked, and the trees and bushes broke out in leaves. Spring flowers grew up along the trail, and the scents were almost overpowering. By now, the trail was almost a highway, growing broad and deep. He came to a stream and waded across, then felt the coolness of his wet pants. He put his shoes back on, and continued through the almost eerily sudden spring.

Suddenly, he heard a rustle behind him. He spun around to find a large cougar staring at him. He froze. Then, faintly, he seemed to hear, "Oh, no. Another one!" The cat snarled, then turned and crashed off into the brush. Arrow waited a few minutes, for his heart to slow and his nerves to calm down. "Oh, boy, now I know I'm somewhere else!" he said, shakily. "The last big cat around here was killed the turn of the last century!"

He continued down the trail, paying much more attention to his surroundings. That cat had shaken him badly. And had he really heard something? He thought he had, but the cat's lips hadn't moved at all until it snarled. Well, there wasn't any easy explanation, aside from he was crazy. He remembered the first 'voice' and had his doubts.

The trees were in full leaf by now, and it was beginning to feel warm enough to be early summer. He stopped and took another drink, emptying the bottle, then headed on. The trees ended abruptly, opening on to a huge meadow of tall grass. The trail continued, driven hard and wide, and he walked on. In the distance, he saw a horse herd, and cattle. Overhead soared a buzzard.

He looked to see if there were any hawks. He's always had a fascination with the raptors, how they could fly so effortlessly, and how beautiful they were. The father of one of his best friends was a Falconer, and kept hawks, so Arrow had had plenty of time to get to know them up close in the mews. He'd helped to clean up their casts and fewmets, and to gather the feathers during molt, for use in imping into any broken ones later. He was working on getting a license to own raptors, when he got his own home, and was looking forward to it. But he saw none here. So, with a sigh, he continued on.

A line of trees ahead indicated a stream. He came to the bank and sat - hot and beginning to be tired. A pair of otters played in the water, wrestling and chasing, making it look like all they had to do was have fun. He laughed at their antics. They froze, then looked back at him. They dived under the water, and disappeared. He waited a few minutes for them to reappear, but they didn't. He sighed, then got to his feet and waded the stream, pausing for a moment to refill his water bottle.

"Don't." he heard faintly. He turned and there was one of the otters. "Don't drink or eat anything here, or you'll join us," it said, then vanished. He stared and the widening ripples where the otter had been. Had he really heard something? He sloshed the rest of the way across, and up the other bank, to find the trail waiting.

He sighed, then laid the heavy coat down. It was becoming obvious he wouldn't need it again in this summery land. Then, staff swinging to mark the pace, he continued his journey. He forded several more streams, once surprising a raccoon washing its dinner. The little masked creature stared, then fled with the crayfish in its paw.

It was a beautiful land, seeming rich in life. Grasshoppers jumped away from him, and crickets chirped everywhere. Meadowlarks sang their beautiful song, and other small birds flew about. There seemed something wrong though, but he couldn't figure out what it was. A rabbit hopped across his trail, stopping for a moment to look before fleeing into the grass in long bounds. In the distance, a large mound began to rise above the horizon.

He continued walking at a gentle pace; there was no hurry, after all. The mound continued to rise, and it became apparent the trail was leading to it. As he got closer, he began to see the mouth of a cave at the base. He felt a shiver, looking at it. He couldn't say why, but it looked...ominous. The trail dead ended there.

"Please, come in," he heard. Or thought he did. He turned a full circle, looking at the land. Then, with a deep breath, he entered the cave. It took a while for his eyes to adjust, but then he began to see things piled against the walls. Walking sticks, clothes, boots, garb of many types. But, strangely, no bones. "Come further in, young Arrow, " The voice said, in his head. "Come to me, and I will explain all." With nothing to loose, Arrow walked deeper into the underground passage. It grew close around him, then suddenly opened into a great space.

"Welcome," the voice said. "Please be seated, as this may take a few minutes. Thank you for trusting me, and entering. I am Jothner, the 'spirit' of this land. Long ago, this was a desert, without animals and with little vegetation. I had a very great deal of power, but almost nothing else. And, I was lonely. I could 'see' the worlds surrounding me, all but one dead and empty, worse than mine. But, there was one...bright and filled to bursting with life."

"I studied it. I wanted my land to be like it. I tried to get some of its life to come here - and was stopped. The Spirit of that world blocked me, and forbade me to even attempt to touch its creatures. I spoke with it for a long time, and we came to agreement on many things. It freely allowed me to take the vegetation, so I was able to grow my world into a green paradise, and allowed me the lesser animals - insects, worms, bacteria, everything needed to grow a version of the paradise it had created."

"I was overjoyed, and spent my power freely to create and grow, unlike the spirits of the other worlds who boast of their power and yet do nothing with it," he said. "I created a living world, had none of the large creatures, and it felt lonely for that. An ideal land, but empty. I tried to create from what I already had, but failed miserably, time after time. I asked the other spirit, and he said just to wait, as life grew from life over a very long time. But I looked at his paradise, and didn't want to wait."

"We spoke together for a long time, he offering and giving help as my world flourished, and I watching his as it slowly grew and changed." He continued. "He began to have difficulties, caused by his most advanced creature, a sort of ape. It grew steadily more intelligent, and began using tools and changing its environment. He was able to keep it within bounds for a long time, then suddenly it just exploded across the globe, destroying as it went. He tried controlling it with natural disasters, which worked for a while but the creatures learned from them and grew ever more wise. They began to cause extinction - his largest animals disappeared, killed off, and the creatures spread over the globe."

"He was becoming very worried, as they destroyed freely, and, in desperation, he offered me samples of the near extinct beasts, to preserve them, and I accepted them joyously. My world grew in beauty, although I sorrowed at the cost to his," Jothner said. "The apes gained more and more power, learning and growing, and beginning to realize what they were doing to their world. They began to establish great areas to preserve life in, and to cherish what they had almost destroyed."

"But, then, in a madness we couldn't begin to comprehend they made war on each other, continuously for a prolonged period. Hundreds of millions of them died, until finally they devised devices using the powers of the stars themselves. At that point, my friend released all his creatures to me, to save them from the folly of the killer apes." he continued. "Only the apes he kept to himself, hoping he could find a way to save them too. I had the paradise I had wanted, although at a cost I wouldn't have believed."

"But watching the animals, I realized I couldn't talk to them. Lovely, graceful, they were everything I had hoped for in my land. But I was still lonely. My friend could speak with some of the apes, and he and they worked to save his world. I wanted some to speak with too, but NOT the apes!" he said. "Then one day, my friend said he'd noticed a trend among some of the apes, a longing to be animals, wearing costumes and taking animal personas. We both thought it strange, but I realized, this might be a chance for me to place intelligence within my world without taking the apes!"

"I spoke with my friend for a long while about this, and he saw it as an alternative to the way his world had grown. We both set paths between our worlds, findable only by those who had that wish, that dream, to live as something else," he said. "And slowly, gradually, I began to get them. Almost all joyously accepted my offer. Those that didn't were returned to the point of entry in their world, with the memory removed of their visit, to continue their lives."

"And so, Arrow, I come to you. This is my offer. Join me, here, and live as whatever you most dearly wish to be. Or return to your life in the other world. The door will still be open if you do, but you will have to find it yourself, and not be invited as this time." Jothner said. "Take your time, think the offer over. If you wish to become one of mine, tell me what you wish to be. Then, take a drink."

Arrow thought deeply over this choice. He was young, with his life before him...but, the lure was so strong. He had always loved the great raptors, how they flew free, riding the wind to go where they would. In many ways, he'd always felt he should be one of them. But, his human life...?

"If I choose the Hawk I would wish to be, what happens to my human life? My parents, all the entanglements, what happens to them?" he asked "I don't wish to just vanish and leave a legacy of pain to others."

"It is worked out with the Spirit of your world. We are far more powerful than you know. If you choose to come here, all trace of you in that world will disappear, as if you never were there." Jothner replied.

Relieved, Arrow said, "Sir, I choose to remain here. I wish to become a Red Tailed Hawk, the bird I have loved most all my days." Arrow then reached down, picked up the bottle of water, and drank it dry.

"Welcome, My Child!" Jothner cried. "Welcome! I had hoped you would choose my world. We can use you here!"

"Now, remove all your clothing and place it with the other garments, and I shall start on your transformation." he said. Arrow quickly stripped, down to naked skin. He shivered a bit in the caverns coolness, but placed his clothes with the others and returned quickly.

"And now we begin your new life." Arrow heard, then he gasped as he shrank. There was no pain, just - strangeness as his body began to transform. His arms twisted, and the very bones altered. Skin rippled, changed, then feathers began to sprout - a downy undergrowth. His chest changed, becoming the keel of a bird, and his internal organs rippled and twisted, assuming new configurations. His eyes changed as well, as his head shrank; nares and a beak grew where his mouth had been. Smaller, smaller, he shrank, going from a tall man to a fairly large bird, much smaller than a human. His feet altered, becoming the talons of a hawk. Over all this, his muscles changed, reforming into the new configurations needed to power his new body in flight. Finally, body essentially formed, came the feathers. Those on the body and head, needed for warmth and covering, then the wing and tail flight feathers, the crucial ones by which he would now earn his living. The change process slowed and came to an end. A mirror appeared before him, and he examined his new self. Pleased, he screamed a hawks cry!

"I am glad you approve!" Jothner chuckled in his mind. "I had hoped you would join us. I had a secret reason, one I withheld so as not to force you in any way. She is behind you."

Arrow spun - and beheld a vision of raptor loveliness, a female Red Tail! Larger than he, and waiting for him at the cavern entrance. "She has been here several years, while we hunted for someone who would become her mate," Jothner said. Arrow screamed again, in thanks and joy - now his life was fulfilled!

Together, the new couple bowed to Jothner, who chuckled again. They turned and walked from the darkness of the cave, into their new lives.

The end


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