Her eyes fluttered, indecisive in greeting the new day or giving into the heavy wax of sleep that tantalizingly reminded her of the land that laid beyond the simple closure of her eyes. A land filled with bountiful supply of prey: the familiar gray long-eared creatures hopping along the lush grassy plains. The reddish bodies of the bushy-tails running up and down the thick trunks of trees coated in luscious green leaves, all the while she flew just above in a cloudless sky, the sun warming her back. The serene whistling of the wind rung in her ears, but that served as her only companion in this perfect world; for that, she would need to wake up.
Blinking the last remnants of sleep from her eyes, she rose up straight, shaking her body before glancing out of the small entrance. The sun was just peak over the horizon, casting a faint, brilliant orange glow over the land, though she could not admire the beauty of the scene. It was much too early, she thought to herself, the urge to drift away once more to those beautiful fields washing upon her before she had even fully sat up, her eyes feeling like she had rocks atop them. Shaking her head, however, she fought back against the urge; she knew she had a reason to rise so early, her eyes turning to the lump only a few feet from her bed.
The faint rise and fall of his chest punctuated a peaceful sleep that brought a small smile to her face. She had waited so long for this moment again, and it filled her chest with joy each time she saw him when waking or coming home. Home, she thought, the smile widening at the thought of it. This cave never felt like a nest to her before, but she found herself more and more wanting to spend her days here with her flat-foot in this nest of theirs that she so lovingly created for them. Looking at him was currently enough for her to feel her heart swell, but she wanted to also play with him, do the things she used to do with her sisters and even some of the things she had seen him around the large flat-foot nest. But, for now, she was content to let him adapt to his new life here.
Rising to her feet, she stretched her stiff limbs out before going to straighten out her nest, pulling the pelts together until they were smooth on top of one another. She admired how comfortable it looked, wishing that her flat foot would also make his nest after waking instead of leaving it a jumbled mess that she had to make after she came back. She shook her head: he really did act like a spoiled chick in that regard. She sighed, she would make it for now, but she would eventually have to make him do it on his own.
Fair is fair, she thought as she moved her way over to the entrance, careful to make sure the clicking of her talons didn’t wake her resting flat foot. She did all the hunting and received all the water for him, so he could at least be able to tend to his nest on his own. It wasn’t much to ask, so she hoped that he would pick up on all her effort and tend to the small things that he could.
Spreading her wings wide, she turned back and smirked at the sleeping flat foot, hoping one day soon he could see this majestic image for himself, craving to see the look on his face which she knew would be complete awe at her beauty. However, she has yet to trust him completely on his own for extended periods of time, which hunting and gathering often entailed. She wasn’t a fool: she wished that he could be trusted to be by himself, but she knew that he must have thoughts of returning back to his old nest, and though she was confident that there wasn’t a way out of their nest, she could never be too cautious. Soon, she hoped, he would be used to his new nest and would desire not to leave her. Nevertheless, she needed to be safe.
She pushed herself off the ledge, the cool morning air roaring past her as she plummeted to the ground. She had missed this–the feeling of the wind as it blew past her, ruffling her thick plumage; she had often ignored it for so long. Only now did she realize how much of a slog life had been for her prior to claiming her flat foot. Each day had been the same meaningless toil again and again, and now she realized how empty that had been for her. She missed the simple things she enjoyed due to her isolation, but now, with her flat foot at the nest, she could feel the small creepings of life being breathed back into her daily activities.
Snapping her head up, she threw her wings wide, feeling the whipping of the wind blowing hard against her outstretched wings, pumping them furiously as the sudden updraft propelled her up. Settling high into the sky, she glided, with an occasional flap of to keep her steady, towards the destination she had in mind: the river. Her eyes focused on the large, serpentine beast that cut the land in two, the water glistening like the lights in the sunless sky, a feeling of dread forming in her chest.
She settled in a nearby tree, her eyes trailing up and down the flowing blue water, listening to the water smack the shore with a grimace. She hated the thought of doing what she came here to do, not having been particularly good at fishing in the past even after intense instruction from her mother, but she needed to do this for her flat foot. She had no clue why he seemed so opposed yesterday to eating the long-ear she had caught for them to share; he had heard the rumbling from his stomach yesterday, but only after careful persuasion on her end, did he relent and eat.
It confused her: she had seen him eat meat so many times before, and it only struck her after the fact as to why he was so unwilling in this instance. Flat feet liked to hold their meat over fire and leave it there until the red meat started to darken, which she found confusing but couldn’t deny how mouth-watering the smell was; however, she also feared the idea of starting a fire in their nest, so she had shook that idea from her mind when she thought about how to convince him to eat. It was a frustrating deliberation because of how superficial it was in her head–he should just eat the meat as it was, and she thought it was spoiled of him to refuse after all the effort she had gone through to grab a meal for them.
She had concluded that he would simply have to grow used to the idea of eating meat that way when she had remembered one instance in the forest. She had seen him bring this thin branch into the forest one hot day and began to cast a shiny hooked talon into the river; it had bemused her at the time, curious as to what he was trying to accomplish with the thin branch and silver talon, until she saw him pull back suddenly on the branch.
He whipped back and forth on the odd branch, his limbs twisting furiously until she saw his prize hooked within the silver talon. The slimy green body flailed as it flung itself in a desperate attempt to free itself, though it appeared to only trap itself further onto the talon. Her flat foot gave a little hoot once the fish was flailing in front of him, stepping further ashore before he went to work unhooking it from its restraint and throwing it on the ground where it flopped around for a bit, before settling down and gasping.
Once relaxed, her flat foot went about gutting the fish with a sharp object that glistened in the sun, cutting out small chunks of the fish and eating it off of the tip of it. At the time, this hadn’t struck her as odd, but after yesterday’s incident with the long-earred, it now resonated in her mind. She figured he’d be more content with eating the fish, and she sought it out to make him more comfortable with her, having noted the lack of trust in his eyes despite her multiple attempts to ensure his comfort.
Sighing, she glanced out at the sparkling blue water, her lips pushing out into a pout as she scanned it. Fishing had never been her forte, and even her mother’s lessons didn’t make her more than passable at the endeavor, something her sisters would lord over her about; they had both been much better than her at it, though she was still the better land hunter. Part of the reason she never really got better at it was because she didn’t like the taste of fish personally; the sliminess just tickled her throat the wrong way, and she always felt queasy afterwards. She wished she didn’t have to do this, but if this was for the comfort of her flat foot, then she would swallow it down for now, though she still intended on him getting over his aversion to meat.
Shaking her head, she scanned the water once more, realizing that in her recollection, she hadn’t been paying attention to the water for the familiar dark shapes of fish. This was the worst part and why she disliked fishing the most: the constant waiting. She supposed that hunting on land was the same in that she had to wait for her chance to strike, but at least she could fly around and see clearly in the fields. Here, she had to sit still and watch, and a dark shape in the water could be any number of things: a stray branch swaying in the wind or a stick just below the surface being carried by the flow. She remembered the guffawing of her sisters and the look of disappointment in her mother’s eyes at her repeated failures when she would pull ashore a stick or nothing at all.
Grumbling, but her eyes still focused on the water, she waited and waited until at last she saw a dark shape just below the water. She saw the familiar sight of its tail swaying, her eyes trailing it as it made its way along the water, her haunches and wings tensing up as it drew closer to her. She took a deep breath, steadying her nerves, before she pushed off suddenly from the branch, picking up speed from her high perch as she dove towards the unsuspecting fish with her talons outstretched, the wind roaring in her ears.
Something felt wrong, however, as she approached the water quick, and her eyes widen as she realization dawned on her: she was going much too fast towards the water. Her wings started pumping back to little avail as she finally struck the water, feeling it reach up to her thigh before she started pulling back against her initial momentum. The sudden pull of the river threw her off balance and she felt herself tilting towards the water, her heart racing as it began to come up to her belly. She knew that if her wings got stuck in the water, she could very well sink under the surface.
Fear began to course through her heart as she pumped her wings quicker and stronger against the strong pull of the river, a loud squawk ripping from her throat. Adrenaline coursed through her body and the renewed vigor and strength gradually loosened the grasp the river had on her legs, and she began to feel them slowly be freed from the watery depths. Emboldened by her progress, she began to push harder against the water until, at last, she felt her legs pulled free from its grasp.
Letting out a loud squawk, she pushed herself into the air and away from the dangers of the water, roosting once more in the same spot she had flung herself from only moments prior. Panting, her whole body shook as fear and adrenaline coursed through her body, droplets of water flinging from her body while she tried to calm down. She glanced out at the water, a grim reminder of what could’ve been her last hunt, and the source of her now burning embarrassment.
Her ego thoroughly bruised, and her eyes watching the water bubbled like it was mocking her failure. She already admitted to herself that she was never the best fisher of her family, but that didn’t mean that it hurt any less to be so embarrassed at her failure. She remembered the mocking she would receive from her sisters on her one inefficiency, and though she could pride herself on her land hunting that did little to assuage her one blemish. And now she felt the familiar pricklings of anger flare up underneath the embarrassment as she stared into the water, seeing another dark shadow shooting across the surface.
Her eyes narrowed, she could easily just abandon this foray after the almost disastrous results from before and have her flat foot deal with the meat, but, deep down, a part of her couldn’t allow herself to be bested so easily. Chattering to herself, she followed the dark shadow zooming across the water, her haunches raised once more with one thought circulating through her head as she launches herself from the branch again.
This time she wasn’t going to fail.
The wind buffeted her soaked body, sending chills up and down her spine as she glided through the cool air, the early morning sun offering little warmth to her shivering body. However, she felt a small warmth in her head, and a large smirk stretched across her face as she clutched the slippery body of a fish within one of her talons; the other holding the limp body of a long-ear. It may have taken a few more tries to get it right, but she had gotten the prize at the end of it, and a smug feeling of pride filled her head mixed with excitement at showing her flat foot her reward. She had made it quick with the hunt for her own food, wanting to waste little time in showing him back at the nest, after a proper greeting of course.
She hoped that he would also have made his nest up so that she didn’t have to, though she supposed she could simply withhold the food until he did it like a good flat foot. He had to start pulling his own weight around their nest while she did all the hard work, and that really only involved cleaning the place up while she was gone; something not too hard considering all there was a nest to make and getting rid of the bones of their prior meal. Maybe she’d even stop making her own nest and leaving it to him so he at least had more work to do; anyway, it was the least he could do while she hunted and got him water, which now reminded her that she’d probably have to leave the nest again to fill up that thing again with water.
Sighing, she supposed her work was never done in, though she felt no sorrow or annoyance at the thought of it. For so long, she had nothing but herself to work for, but now there was something to care about once more, and it was rejuvenating to have somebody to care for again. Looking back on it now, she did not know how she was able to survive in her isolation for so long, but it did not matter now; she had no intention of ever going back to that, her heart pounding happily as she saw the opening to their nest, ready to see his smiling face.
Letting out a loud squawk, she flew in through the entrance, dropping the prey on the ground with a dull thud before landing, an eager smile on her face as she looked around for him. However, the smile left her face and her head snapped to attention, panic flooding through her body at her eyes snapped to and fro to only be met with the same emptiness. He was gone.
A loud squawk ripped from her throat, and she began to hop frantically towards the entrance, her heart in her throat as she glanced down the mountainside and to the forest floor below, fearful of what she would see below. But she felt a small sense of relief as she did not see his mangled body below, but it didn’t last for long, turning her gaze back towards the cave. Her body shook and a swarm of thoughts flooded her head, jumbling together and causing her to freeze up. The familiar pricklings of dread erupting across her back, and she closed eyes to try and calm herself down, but in the darkness, it slowly crept up on her; the fiery gaze burning bright.
Screaming, her eyes flung open and were thrown wildly around the cave. She couldn’t go back, she couldn’t go back, she screamed at herself. He had to come back; he couldn’t leave. She couldn’t go back. The fear, the isolation, the depression–she needed him.
In the disarray of her vision, she saw something faintly and her head locked on it. Heart pounding, her eyes went wide as she saw the small hole in her nest. Frantic, she moved to it, laying flat to look through it and saw a small tunnel just beyond it, her mind snapping to attention. The jumble of thoughts and fears in her mind filtered away and one key memory sprung to mind before she jumped to her feet and flew out of the cave.
Taking to the sky, she flew around the mountain, the blood pounding in her head as she raced to the flat foot site. Long ago when she first moved into her nest, there had been a small flat foot nest near the foot of the mountain range, long abandoned it seemed as the wood was cracked and splintered in various spots, vegetation growing in and around the nest. However, that wasn’t what drew her attention to that long forgotten memory, but what the nest led up to: the cavernous mouth of a cave.
Fear propelled her forward, the burning gaze following close behind as she pushed herself harder and harder, her breath coming out in frenzied gasps. Finally, after what felt like days, she saw the clearing that housed the dilapidated nest, the large mouth of the cave only a short distance from it. Stopping, she hovered, her head snapping around the clearing in desperation to see him. However, her eyes were only met with emptiness.
The hope in her chest left replaced by a deep pain that squeezed her heart. Her body began to shake. Her eyes grew heavy. And just behind her, she could feel that familiar burning gaze on her back.
Her head snapped towards the entrance, sudden movement drawing her attention away from the burning eyes on her back. Joy sprung into her body as she saw him step out into the clearing, shielding his eyes from the invasive sunlight. She could almost feel tears ready to spring from her eyes, but she shook her head and glared down at him, ready once more to strike him like she had done only a few nights prior.
Slowing her breathing, she waited a few moments for him to step further into the clearing, noting a relieved smile on his face as he moved further into it. Once satisfied, she threw her body forward and nosedived towards him, pulling back as her momentum picked up and raised her talons out in front of her, aiming for his shoulders. Like the previous attempt, he noticed too late as she sunk her claws into his shoulders once more.
He let out a loud shout and began to try and shake his body loose, but her talons held true and she began to pull up quickly, her wings pumping fast and strong to lift him off the ground. This time, much to her surprise, he didn’t faint like last time, instead he continued to struggle within her grasp, even reaching his limb up to grasp her leg, squeezing them painfully.
Letting out a startled squawk, but not releasing him, she floated in the air, her flat foot kicking and screeching at her. Her heart, once so filled with joy at seeing him, now began to ache in terrible pain at his actions. His tone was filled with malice. With anger. With hate. She didn’t have to know what he was saying for her to understand what he meant.
He hated her.
Her shoulders slumped. Her body began to shake. All this time–the time they have spent together–he had hated her. Hate. Each time she thought it, it pained her heart, and now a fresh wave of tears threatened to come pouring out. After everything she had done for him to be content with her, he still found it in his heart to hate her.
Her talons tighten, causing him to let out a yelp. Everything she had done for him. Nearly drowned for him. Made a nest for him. Got him water. Let him get used to his new home even though she craved playing games with him. She had catered to him at the risk of her own happiness.
She thought she could be content with him just being near, but she wanted so much more. She wanted to play with him, have fun with him, communicate with him, but she held back. She wanted him to get used to his new home, but not only could he not do that: he couldn’t even find it in himself to appreciate her for the lengths she had gone through to make him happy.
She shook her head, he couldn’t even fix his own nest without her doing it.
Enough was enough, she was the one in charge, not him. He was here to make her happy, and he would have to find his happiness with her. She wouldn’t force herself to go out of her way to give him what he wanted. She wanted to be happy too. He was going to learn to be happy with her. But first, she would need to teach him a lesson he wouldn’t soon forget.
Taking to the sky, she began to rise higher and higher, feeling the continued struggling of the flat foot weaken to a halt. He stiffened, and she worried that he had fainted again from the height, but once she turned her head towards him, she saw that his eyes were wide open, fear sparkling in them. She nodded her head, letting him bask in the feeling for a moment.
A small thought prickled in the back of her mind to not do this, but her mind hardened when she thought back to that hateful yelling, and her eyes narrowed. This had to be done. With one last deep breath on her end, she steeled herself to what needed to be done.
She closed her eyes and let go.