• Charlie Benton

Short Story: We are Bound

Drip. Drip. Drip. The cave was damp and dark, the ground slick with moss and ice cold water, squelching in between my bare toes. It was strange to me that a beast born with the ability to soar amongst the morning clouds would choose to make its home beneath the ground in that gloomy pit; but as a human, mine was not to question the whim of the lord of the forest. To question the whim of the nightwing. You can see them sometimes, at night, their black wings spread across the moonlit sky, blotting out the stars like spilled ink on reams of writing bark. Their shrill, echoing calls flooding the basin. The elders will warn you to stay under shelter when they hunt, to avoid their hooked claws and ruby gaze, and yet I have always been drawn to them. When night fell, and the house was quiet, I would sneak out into the dark, keeping low to the ground beneath where the canopy was sparsest. I would gaze up and watch them take flight, the nightwings, the apex predators of our lush, walled world. When I was discovered, I was punished for my foolishness, of course. Why would you do such a thing, fool girl, you know how dangerous they are? They could snap you up in an instant and we would never hear from you again. You break your mother's heart! But no matter the punishment, the guilt, I could not resist. I had to see them. I had to watch them unfold those great wings and take to the night sky. The beasts from which the tribe had lived in fear for as long as even the oldest old one could recall. I was drawn to them. And those days as a foolish child had led here, to my Bonding. When I had announced my intent to the tribe, they thought me a fool once more. That silly girl and her fool fairytales. She'll get herself swallowed up. I paid them no mind. I had decided. It was my choice. I watched as the others came back from their Bonding, changed. Some wilder, some bright eyed, or sharp-tongued. It was your choice, the elders said, to Bond with the beast you felt kinship with. No one else's. Mountain lurchers, river switches, sandswipes, branchrooks. Fangs, quick eyes, long tongues, beautiful feathered wings. When you were Bound, when you took those traits, it was forever. You had to be sure. And I was sure. It could be no other, no tamed creature or easily trapped game. It had to be a nightwing. And there I was, rope in hand, nothing on my back but the Binding garb, thick black leather tied with forest thread. I had my blade, too, but should my confidence and rope fail, I knew, the sliver of metal would do very little against the swift hooked talons. I pressed on into the darkness, the milky moonlight fading as I moved further from the open mouth of the den. Around the edges of the tunnel were strewn bones and chewed meat. I saw the skull of a draghorn, and in my mind I imagined the strength and raw power it must have taken to lift such a creature from the grazing field and bring it here. I shuddered. And yet I pressed on. The nightwings dug their own dens into the dirt, ripping and tearing into the mud and rocks with their claws, wide enough to fit their wings and long tails, but this den was far longer and wider than I had anticipated. I knew the creatures never shared their space - even breeding pairs would rip each other to shreds after just a few hours - which meant the monster that had chosen to live was incredibly large. The largest I had ever seen, perhaps. From within the cave, I heard a deep, shuddering breath, followed by an echoing clicking. I gripped hold of the rope tightly, running the looped end through my fingers. Today, I would form my Bond, or I would die. 'Kasah... Foolish human. Why come here?' Its voice was a hiss, a wet, sharp sound that sent my blood cold. 'I come to make my Bond.' To my surprise, it laughed, *cackled* even. 'That is a funny one... kasah... you bring your length of rope to me and say you will make us one. No human has been so bold in a very long time... or so foolish.' I took a step forward towards the hulking figure at the back of the cave. Two crimson cracks appeared in the darkness. 'The Bond is a calling, and I was called here. I choose you, or I choose death.' Another deep, throaty chuckle. 'Kasah... then you choose death.' The great, leathery paw shot out of the darkness, the talons wrapping around the entire length of my body and throwing me backwards. Still gripped by the talons, I was launched out of the open mouth of the cave, and into the air, the forest floor left far below. The nightwing still held me tightly as it took me further and further, higher and higher above the canopy, towards the stars that I had gazed at as a child, when I had first felt the call. Below, I saw the open jaw of the nightwing, the flash of blood red that was its eyes, its stained, bone-yellow teeth. I would die, I knew then. My mother would be proved right, and it would break her. My father would have no body to bury. The tribe would mourn me and tut heartily in equal measure. I always said she was a fool, they would say, her poor mother. But in that moment, above the clouds, my hair whipping at my scalp like snapping vines... I felt alive. I felt... right. 'Kasah... fall gracefully.' The talons released me and I began to fall, my stomach lurching into my mouth, sweat dripping from my palms and soaking into the rope I still gripped between my fingers. The rope. With a cry that felt like it came from my very soul, near-blinded by my own hair and tears, I cast the rope upwards. My aim was true, the months of practice in the rain and sleet until my fingers bled paying off in a single, vast, beautiful deposit. The rope looped around the nightwing's neck and snapped taut. It screeched in utter surprise and was suddenly yanked downwards, its wings slapping against the air in a desperate attempt to stay airborne. 'Kasah! Kasah!' It sqauwked as the ground rushed up to meet us. Even as I hit the damp earth, my descent slowed just enough to leave me with only a twisted ankle, I kept hold of the rope, tight enough to make my fingers throb and ache. The nightwing landed with barely more grace than I had, its claws gouging into the dirt, its huge, scaled head pulling wildly against the rope. The binding rope would dull its senses... but only for another few seconds, I knew. It was then... or not at all. I rushed forward, towards its open, screaming mouth, and dived into its thrashing embrace. I pressed my hand firmly against its skin, straddling its concave, lithe body. I realised I was screaming too, but I couldn't stop. If I stopped screaming, I would die. The sensation was blinding, alien but somehow entirely familiar. Like an embrace from a loved one, or your first kiss, beneath the warm sunset. My fingers buzzed against the beast's skin and for a moment felt as though I had plunged them into the ashes of a recently extinguished fire. The world was swallowed up by a total, complete blackness. Then it was over. I lay there in the dirt, sucking in damp forest air and exhaling hot air that turned to white clouds in the cold air. The world looked different. Vivid... not brighter, but sharper, and clearer. I ran my tongue along my teeth and found they were sharper, too, sharp enough to cut me and draw blood. Beside me, the nightwing lay also, breathing as rapidly as I was. It was then I realised just how colossal it really was - three times the length of my body and almost as wide. And yet... it looked less ferocious now, curled up in the dirt, quiet and defeated. Bound. I pushed myself onto my palms and sat, blinking my new eyes into focus. 'Kasah... child... You impress me.' Climbing to my feet, I became aware of a sudden heaviness at my shoulders, as though I was carrying a canvas pack full to bursting. 'You are the first in a very long time, kasah. Stand tall. You are of the talons now. Of the wings.' My tongue felt strange, too, quicker in my mouth. Sharper, like my teeth. 'Kasah,' I whispered, my voice rich and barely more than a hiss. 'We are Bound.' They unfurled with barely more than a thought. My wings, black as night, keen as a blade. I almost lost my balance as they stretched out, snapping my Binding leathers and scraping the floor before they straightened out to their full width, wider across than I was tall. The most beautiful thing I had ever seen. 'We are Bound.' *Originally posted on Reddit

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© 2018 by Charlie Benton

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