Chariot takes a long sip of his hot vanilla mocha, then sets the steaming mug on the crescent bar. His mouth and tongue have been burned too many times to feel any pain now when the freshly boiled drink pours down his throat. Darvin, his fellow roc rider, settles with a stronger brew: pure black coffee, harvested from the beans raised in Endom, Mavor, and imported directly to this café. Char’ shudders. Too bitter for him.
A waitress with her long twin ponytails shoved too far up on her head struts over and asks if they’d like anything else. They decline, and the girl in green walks to one of the other tables.
The woody warm coffeehouse is quiet for an afternoon break. Only a few other Rookies trying to be cool with their coffee and retired men looking for a game of Rylvrb sit at the elevated round tables. The pair have the bar to themselves.
Chariot glances to his right. Darvin’s bloody lines on his cheek haven’t scabbed over yet. If anything they’re redder. I don’t understand why he stays with his roc. That lovebird doesn’t leave him alone.
“Eagol’s loyal, that’s all,” Darvin says bluntly, not moving his eyes.
Char’ scowls, trying to figure out how his friend can interpret his thoughts. “Loyalty doesn’t end with scars, ‘Vin,” he says glumly.
“That airhawk of yours’ll not stop at anything to get to you,” the skeptic argues. “Today the flightguard, tommorow the czar.”
“Loyalty’s a good trait,” Darvin says as he turns his scratched face towards his comrade. “It shows he’ll go when his rider tells him to fly into the heat of storm.”
“Well let’s just hope he “lovebites” the enemy as much as he does you.” Char’ leans back after another sip. “I just wish you were set up with a better roc. Take my Banshee. He’s loyal but he’s not in love. He doesn’t hug me with his claws to thank you for sharpening them. He doesn’t display how well I brushed his teeth.”
“He’s roughhousing,”Darvin says. “Playing as a dog does. Nothing more.”
“Bronze nor steel will keep you guys apart.”
“That new cage’s got him tight. He’ll rest up and be ready for circling Aven’ tomorrow. Now let’s not speak of him anymore, Chariot.” Darvin chugs the rest of his coffee and sets the mug down. “I’ll be back in a sec.” He slides off the stool and walks to the washroom.
Chariot looks down into his whitish drink and swishes it around, shaking his cup lightly.
Then he hears the screams.
He he throws his payment over his shoulder as he jumps of his chair and runs to the glass door. He places his hands on it and smushes his face against it, trying to see down the street where the sounds of commotion come from. He pushes open the door and stands outside on the sidewalk.
Down the city street, in the middle of the intersection busy with motorbikes and striders, pedestrians and bicyclers, is a massive gray airhawk, a roc, perched on an overturned brass bike, shrieking at anyone who dares look at it. Its head bobs around, its huge four foot wings raising up in a massive spread, finally silencing, daring anyone to attack.
Eagol. Darvin’s roc. Chariot gulps.
He reaches back and slowly grabs the barrel of his AK-3812, a repeating sniper rifle with a water-canister at his waist feeding water in through a tube for near-unlimited shots. He completes its voyage over his shoulder and shoves the butt between his shoulder and and chest, his hands expertly holding the gun so that any kickback is immediately absorbed. He raises the barrel upward and aims at the roc’s head.
One of the perceptive gold eyes meets Char’s a moment too soon. The roc screeches in the air and lifts off from the bike, it’s beak open in a sort of smile, plunging down at Chariot. He holds down the trigger and watches as shot after shot wisps from his gun, none hitting anything more than feathers. Eagol dives from his hight and aims himself directly at the roc rider.
The airhawk grabs Chariot it his claws and pulls up with all speed. He feels the talons slowly tightening around him like a giant hug.
“I’m not Darvin!” Char’ shouts. “YOUR MASTER’S IN THE BATHROOM!!!”
Eagol seems to have understood the comment. He promptly jets around an invisible corner and drops Chariot two hundred feet down.
I’ve been trained for this moment. Every Avengardian roc rider needs to be able to fall from any hight…the professional way. That requires bring down the adrenaline and trying to think clearly.
The fall happens in slow motion. Chariot opens his closed eyes.
I see Darvin through the café window. He’s washing his hands. He’s completely oblivious of everything going on. That streetlight down there…I can grab on to it when I reach it…almost there…
Chariot grabs the overhanging street lamp and feels the jolt of impact in his arms. He swings, feels more momentum, and gets rid of it by flipping over the horizontal bar 360º. He releases and drops to the ground.
One eye on the bird flying above and one on the streets, he grabs the overturned bicycle and pedals as past as he can down Alby Street, the one road leading to the Central Aviary’s left wing. He flashes by the brick and copper homes and then suddenly high-risers and skyscrapers made of brass and bronze. The grand building approaches. Eagol is circling the city, scanning it for his owner.
Char’ throws down the bike and runs into the left wing’s doors. Immediately after passing through the golden doors of majesty and might, he’s immersed in the smell of stray and fresh bird manure.
Sudden silence comes over him, a wave of peace. The huge room is like a giant barn, only full of uncaged birds free to roam. Some perch on the rafters; these are mostly the rocs. Hippogriffs meander around the ground and eat hay. The fierce griffins keep to their own and silently talk of the sky world’s diplomacy like monarchs.
The calm washes away as the pages walk over with questions engraved on their faces.
“There’s a loose bird from the right wing,” Char’ explains. “I need Banshee.”
At the sound of his name, the black roc soars down from his position on the rafters and lands on the straw ground, not before knocking down the full wheelbarrow of the new kid who had been mucking the stalls.
“No time to exit through the bird gate,” Chariot says. He turns, and dashes out the doors. He lifts his forearm above his head as he runs. He feels the claws of Banshee clamp down on it. He swings himself over the airborne body and grabs a tuft of sturdy feathers for his bareback riding. He scopes Eagol near the café; he’s caught sight or maybe scent of Darvin. And with the wind pushing on his face, relentless and beating, he dives after the roc, the one loyal to a fault.