“Ky’ai!” He frowned as the faint call of his name reached his ears. “Ky’ai, we’re going to be late! Why do you always choose the worst of times to disappear?! Do you even realize how utterly inconvenient it is to look for you all the time? Don’t you have any sense of responsibility?” The girl huffed as she continued to wander through the forest around her.
“Kona,” Ky’ai sighed as he recognized his friend stomp into the clearing. Kona had yet to see him as he was in one of the surrounding trees and the brunet looked anything but happy at his antics. It was emphasized by the flicker of flames coming from her long brown hair, as well as her blue eyes having turned a fiery orange. He was really going to be in for it this time and for the life of him he couldn’t understand why she was so angry. It really wasn’t like this was a new thing, he disappeared to the forest a number of time in the past and never before had Kona looked so stressed when she came to find him (since she was the only one that could really find him anymore as he had long ago learned to avoid his parents). The thought of the tongue lashing he was going to get for his disappearing act made him hesitate to come out of hiding. Staying in the tree would be the considerably safer route and up here, he could avoid her wrath and wait until she calmed down to show himself. She would know that he was in this clearing and there would be time.
“Do you even remember what day it is, you idiotic moron?” Kona hissed loudly, obviously having repeated this question a multitude of times in her search of him, gaining no results before now. “Of course not! Why on earth would Ky’ai remember the Spirit Ceremony, the one ceremony we’ve been training for all of our lives? Where we discover out Spirit Animal? It’s not as if that’s the most important event of our lives or anything!”
‘Crap! I forgot the ceremony!’ Ky’ai paled. He couldn’t be late for that! Reluctantly he flung himself from the tree branch he was perched on and landed on the round in a roll; having not been that far up in the tree as he could have been, Ky’ai was sure he’d get away with only a few bruises. The short feeling of flying that he’d had while he’d been in the air had been worth it though. “Come on Kona, we’re going to be late!” He didn’t dare look back at the raging girl for fear of his life as he took off in the direction of the Mountain Village where he and his family had lived all his life.
The Mountain Village was located in the Dragon Province of the Great Kingdom. There were eight provinces in all: Dragon, Phoenix, Wyvern, Unicorn, Faerie, Moon-Born, Warlock, and the Mundanes. Each Province represents the original eight founders of the Great Kingdom, as well as the Sky Kingdom. The Sky Kingdom was the ninth, sky located as the name suggested, province that was the Ruler of the Great Kingdom and said to be a myth by some as only the elite of each Kingdom were allowed to visit. A representative from the ninth Kingdom never showed itself, not even for the Winter Solstice where all the adults of the Eight Provinces gathered the Council of Eight to discuss the events of that years Spirit Ceremony, birth rate, crops, etc. It was a neutral time for each Province where nothing but peace was allowed to reign. If you broke that neutrality, it was a sure ticket to the outlands, the dessert area that surrounded the Great Kingdom and kept the few adventurous spirits that resided there safe at home. Everyone knew that the dessert was perilous and if you survived that, the other outcasts would surely be the ones to attempt to kill you next. Murderers and thieves alike were sent there for their crimes. It was not a sentence that was ever given lightly and was a sentence that no one would wish on the pettiest of criminals.
Ky’ai was excited, though, and such thoughts did nothing to damper his spirit. He felt that he could soar through the clouds with how much anticipation he felt. He was fourteen this year and after the Spirit Ceremony he’d finally be able to attend the Winter Solstice for himself. He’d never been allowed to before due to only those with their Spirit Animals were considered adults in the eyes of the ancient laws and it was only adults that were allowed to attend. He would finally understand why the gathering was the most looked forward to event of the year. That was why the Spirit Ceremony, affectionately called the Ceremony by those of the Mountain Village, was the most important ceremony of the year. He would finally gain his soul creature and officially join the Dragon Province or one of the other corresponding province of his Spirit Animal if he wasn’t a Dragon.
“Ky’ai! Kona!” Elder Aron waved to them hurriedly. “What have you children been doing? It’s nearly time and neither of you are ready!” He shook his head. “No! No time for excuses, go get ready! Kona, Lya and the others are waiting with your Koka. Ky’ai, follow me for your Hyma.”
“Yes, Elder!” Kona gave Ky’ai a bright smile before wandering off, her earlier anger forgotten. The Elder shook his head again as her hair burned brightly in her excitement.
“A Dragon if I ever saw one. Most of them are already displaying the signs,” Aron turned his gaze to Ky’ai. “But you, you are a hard on. You display no calling to the moon like the Moon-Born do. You have no affinity for fire as the Wyvern, Dragons, and most Phoenix do, but you adore heights and the winter air. If I didn’t know any better I’d say that you were an Un-Gifted child we took in. But I know your parents and I watched your birth. Yes, you will be a surprise, but it was you uniqueness that made me sponsor you in the first place, no?”
Ky’ai flushed at the reminder that he’d yet to display any real traits that signify what Spirit Animal he was. It was something that made him both excited for the surprise before him and nervous at what his parents would think if he wasn’t a Dragon like they were. He came from a long line of Dragon Spirit Animals, where the Spirit of the Great Dragon blessed them and granted them the form of a Dragon, claiming them as his children. It was the same for the rest of the Provinces, where their patron Spirits and the Spirits relations blessed the children of the Province that showed promise and they gained the form of that spiri, the children that spirit would never have. The only exception was the Un-Gifted, whose patron Spirit had been shunned by them in favor of a higher god. They had lost the ability to change forms after their betrayal and their patron spirits, the Owl, Fox, Wolf, Bear, Rabbit, or Panther Spirits, had disappeared from the world soon after. The Natural Province had become the Mundane Province and was barely a part of the Great Kingdom any longer, only sending a few to each Winter Solstice when they could make the journey.
“Oh Ky’ai,” Elder Aron sighed. “You need not worry about a thing. I sense much greatness will come from you, no matter your form. Be proud of your Spirit and they too will take pride in having you as their champion, their Childe.”
It was the first warm advice he had gotten on the matter. Not even his mother or father had been that supporting, only sending uncertain and disappointed glances his way as the day of the Spirit Ceremony drew ever closer. They knew as well as he did that he would, in all likelihood, be anything but a Dragon, the first in his family for generations. He was almost frightened to see what they would do when that knowledge was made well known. “Thank you, Elder Aron.”
“Anytime, hatchling, anytime.” Aron gave him a gentle smile. “Now adorn your ceremonial Hyma and go take your place among the ranks of the adults of the Mountain Village.”
Ky’ai nodded and turned to look at the cloth that he was required to wear for the ceremony. Over the centuries, the Great Kingdom had adopted the clothing that many in the Mundane Province wore, changing it to fit the needs of the Provinces. For the Women of the Great Kingdom, they greatly shortened the gowns the Un-Gifted women wore and adapted tight trousers that men of the Un-Gifted Province were allowed to wear to fit their needs. They also wore simple shirts made of white cloth with either long or short sleeves that they would embroider the design of their Spirit Animal or many other designs on to make the garments more feminine (or masculine, as the case may be). Ky’ai was just happy with a simply shirt with trousers, often avoiding shoes unless it was winter and there was snow. These clothes afforded free movement and simple magic could be added when it was woven to give it armor-like qualities.
The Hyma, however, was much more like the more complicate former traditional clothes that the Great Kingdom previously wore. Silk pants were the first piece that was required to be put on, followed by a silk shot sleeved shirt. These were the undergarments. They were then covered by a robe of silk that used a slash to wrap around the waste to keep it closed. The outer robe would be accompanied by a sash of beads made with the design of the Dragon Province. Ky’ai’s long white hair would be braided and beaded with large and small beads that were carved with the designs of the Eight Provinces and the Great Kingdom. When that was finished Elder Aron, his sponsor who had taught him all he needed to know about the Great Kingdom from childhood, would draw the symbol of their patron Spirit, the Great Dragon, on his forehead. Ky’ai would then join the other boys who were about to complete the Spirit Ceremony and then Ceremony would begin.
Ky’ai sighed and began the process of putting the Hyma on. It didn’t take nearly as long as he had thought it would, only about six minutes. He had expected it to take much more time than it had. Almost as soon as he was done, a maid and fifteen minutes later, his hair was braided and beaded. Aron nodded happily, watching from further in the room before approaching Ky’ai. Once he was in front of him, Aron began painting the Great Dragon on his forehead. Ky’ai wondered what he would look like once he was finished as he tried to stay as still as possible.
Ky’ai was unique looking, even for one of the Dragon Province. Many of the Province had unique feature, such as orange eyes or hair that never stopped burning but Ky’ai stood out in a much different way. He was born with golden eyes and snow white hair. His father was unique in that aspect as well, white hair that had nothing to do with age, yet it still was nothing like Ky’ai’s. Ky’ai’s hair was as white as the snow itself, freshly fallen on the ground. His eyes never changed colors and stayed a bright, golden shade, unnerving many that looked at him. It was odd, unique in a bad way. No one wanted to look him in the eyes for longer than a few minutes, not even Kona. Really, Ky’ai was just glad that she was able to ignore the difference and be friends with him anyways. It was just disheartening that she was his only friend of their age group. ‘The cursed child of the Mountain Village’, was what they called him. In all, he looked like no one from the Province, not even his parents. Oh, he had his mother’s feminine features (a fact that annoyed him to no end as most thought him to be a girl at first sight) and he could confidently say that he would have no trouble attracting the attention of a female, though for all the wrong reasons. He was getting tired of being asked if he was sure he was male. Well, when they were brave enough to approach him, that is.
So Ky’ai wondered what he looked like with the beautiful silk outfit on as well as the bright face paint. It would certainly clash with his white hair but it would emphasize his glowing eyes. No one would accuse him of being female anymore, as the Hyma was tight fitting and clung to his lithe but absolutely male figure rather well. Ky’ai wondered whether he should be grateful about that.
“It’s time!” Elder Aron announced as he finished and lead him to the room where the other fourteen year olds awaited to begin the Spirit Ceremony. Kona was already there in her Koka, the feminine version of the Hyma minus the silk pants. Elder Lya of the female sponsors stood before them proudly, ignoring his entrance and surveying the females about to go through the Ceremony. Elders Ro, Ko, and Fo stood next to them, triplets in every sense of the word. They were responsible for the rest of the males besides Ky’ai. Elder Aron only took one trainee a year, the one found the most unique among the bunch. Ky’ai felt pride in being that trainee. It was one of the few things that Ky’ai could take pride in, could feel the joy in being unique. He wouldn’t trade his relationship with Elder Aron for anything.
“We have trained you all that we can,” Elder Aron told them. “Now it comes to your final step as children before you reach adulthood. The Spirit Ceremony will sort you into the Province that you will spend the rest of your life in. The Dragons will be allowed to remain here, in the Mountain Village of their home or be able to leave to a new Village in the Province. The others will be forced to leave during the Winter Solstice. The Spirits of the Dragon Province are as follows: Dragons, Drakons, and Sea Serpents. Phoenix Province takes all feathered, flight birds. Unicorn Province takes Unicorns and Pegasi. These are the most common Spirit Animals for our village. Any others will have to come see us to be told where you are to go. Now, onto the Ceremony! The Girls will start first.” There was a stiff silence as each one of them waited for the first of the females to be called. Though the speech was rather bland, Ky’ai knew that the thought of being forced to leave their home was a frightening one.
Lya smiled at them all. “Kona, be one with your inner Dragon. I look forward to having you join us as an equal and not a student.”
And Ky’ai watched as the ceremony began, the children of the Dragon Council going first. It was obvious to everyone around that those children would be the Dragons of the next generation as they were descendants of the original Dragon Council, children of the Great Dragon himself. Not just Spirit children either. They were from the line of his actual hatchlings, forever gifted with his form. There were six females in total, a weak number compared to most other years with the majority of them having been killed off during the winter of the year they were born. It had been a harsh time few had survived leaving a total of fifteen hatchlings that lived. Most of them had been born in the spring and summer of that year, the only reason they lived. Ky’ai was a rarity, born in the winter and having lived through the storms somehow and it was often speculated that this was the reason for why his hair was so white compared to his father’s. Ky’ai found this to be a stupid reason for his hair to be a certain color but didn’t bother pointing it out. They wouldn’t listen to him anyways.
No one ever listened to him in this village and it was unlikely that they would start now. Ky’ai wasn’t bothered much by it, anyways. It meant that he was able to hear more than a ‘child’ would normally be allowed to and truly, that was more a boon than anything else.
Ky’ai’s family may have been a long line of Dragons however they were not of the Council. In fact they were rather low on the pecking order meaning that Ky’ai would be last of the fifteen to gain his Spirit Animal. So he watched as one after another, the fourteen other children officially became Dragons and Drakons as they exited the Ceremony chambers. There was even one Unicorn and one Phoenix before it was finally Ky’ai’s turn to journey into the chamber himself. Giving the Elder Aron a hesitant smile, he walked forward and walked toward the Great Hall of the Gathering Hall were the Spirit Ceremony was always held. It would be the first and last time that he would ever be in this building so he savored the fact that he was having this chance now. He already knew that he wasn’t a Dragon.
The door opened to reveal a rather empty room. They slammed shut as soon as he was inside and the room lit up to show a deep fog. “Walk forward, Ky’ai of the Dragon Province.” A deep voice called into the empty room. “Walk towards us and allow us to judge you on this sacred day.”
Ky’ai gulped, his stomach twisting with nerves and the urge to flee yet forced himself to nod anyways, making his way to the center of the room. The fog thickened as he moved, surrounding him and enveloping him as a heavy pendant formed around his neck to signify the beginning of the ceremony where he would gain his Spirit Pendant. The Pendant would show everyone around him which Spirit had claimed him as its own. Ky’ai resisted the urge to look and waited for the Spirit to judge him.
“I have been watching you for a long time, young hatchling.” It spoke from the fog. “You have been different from the many of the world that seemed intent on one thing or another, a free spirit, wise in your years and strong in your sense of pride. You are a strange being, you possess strong nature magic yet you have shown no one other than your Sponsor of your prowess, humble in your skills. You use that to heal the beings of nature you find, healing trees and plants without a second thought to the weariness that it might cause you. You hide away your inner thoughts of the world in your heart and your soul is a gentle one. I have found you worthy. The first is such a very, very long time.”
Ky’ai couldn’t help it, staring as a great owl appeared before him with wings flared outwards. “You have been claimed, Ky’ai of the Owl!” It called out. “Be proud for you are the only of my children to walk amongst the Provinces of your Kingdom. Go forth and spread the word that I have returned. Forsake me not again, young one, for the Spirits will be less forgiving this time if you do.”
“Of course, Honored Owl,” Ky’ai said shakily. “It’s just a shock.” It wouldn’t due to be silent after that speech. The last thing he needed to do was offend his Spirit only a few moments after being claimed.
The Owl laughed as it faded into the background of the fog. “Ah, little Ky’ai, Childe of Mine, that is what I intended it to be.”
Aron was waiting expectantly outside the door of the Great Hall, but Ky’ai couldn’t meet his eyes, too lost in thought to even notice his Sponsor waiting for him. “Ky’ai?” Elder Aron asked, touching his shoulder. “Are you alright? Your Spirit, what did it say? Who claimed you?”
Ky’ai looked up into the kind eye of the Dragon that had taken care of him for so long. He wasn’t sure how to tell him and Aron seemed to understand as his eyes travelled to the Pendant around his neck. A white owl around blue cloth hung proudly, proclaiming the Great Owl’s return as loud as Ky’ai ever could. Perhaps even better than Ky’ai could.
Before anything could be said, Kona came over to see what all the fuss was about, likely having spotted the paleness of his face even from across the room.
“Come on, Ky’ai! I want to know what you are!” Kona whined as she peered at his Spirit Pendant. Ky’ai watched as she gasped and stuttered loud enough for all to hear. “Is that an…Owl? The Spirit Owl?” She was speaking as if she couldn’t believe what she was seeing. Ky’ai could sympathize with that feeling rather well at the moment. Her surprised exclamation gathered the attention of those waiting for the ceremony to be officially over.
“Yes, it is.” Ky’ai nodded slowly as the fifteen other fourteen year olds gather around. It seemed that the strange Spirit Animal was enough to draw their attention to him, far too interested to know what was going on than in ignoring him as they usually would. “He said that I am to proclaim that the Owl has returned.”
He never said that he had to shout it to the world, though, and Ky’ai knew that just by telling everyone around would see to it that the news was all over the village by nightfall.
“This is a grave matter.” Aron said, eyes never leaving the pendant. Despite his words, Ky’ai could see the excitement building in his mentor’s eyes. “The Owl has long since forsaken us and for good reason. This might mean the return of many more Spirits that have been thought long gone. Yes, this is indeed a grave, yet wondrous, matter.”
What was so grave about it? Ky’ai wondered as he fiddled with his Spirit Pendant. Aron obviously was excited about this but one look around the room, he saw the darkening eyes of the other elders and couldn’t help the feeling that he wasn’t going to like what was going to happen next.
“What should we do, Aron? The boy cannot hide it and to do so would enrage the Owl. To forsake him twice would bring his rage down upon us and the Great Dragon would not stand in his way.” Lya pointed out slowly, eyeing the pendant like it was the worst thing that had ever happened to her. ‘Hide it?!’ Ky’ai thought with a hint of rage. They wanted him to hide who had claimed him?! Over his dead body!
“We must gather the Dragon Council.” Aron announced. “They will decide how to handle the matter until the Winter Solstice. Until then, the Great Owl of the former Natural Province has returned! We must celebrate!”
It soon became apparent that Aron really was the only one excited about his Spirit Animal. Even Kona seemed more wary of him than usual, something that he very much didn’t understand. His parents barely looked at him throughout the day after the Ceremony and most avoided talking directly to him at all. The only comfort was that he wasn’t the only one being shunned. And even that was less of a comfort and more of a tragedy.
The girl who had been claimed as a Unicorn and the boy who was claimed a Phoenix seemed to be getting similar treatment from the others of the Mountain. Ky’ai had seen both of them breaking down in tears often during the following days and he took a vindictive pleasure in their suffering, having been a pariah in the Dragon Province for most of his life.
Then he immediately felt horrible for thinking such thoughts and pushed the bitterness far back into his mind. He’d never been all that good at holding a grudge, anyways.
Dragons, by nature, were predators and very suspicious of everything. Sure, they could be just as kind as the other provinces but that was to each other. They didn’t take outsiders in their midst well. Territory infringements form other Provinces were rare because of this, no one wanting to deal with a hostile dragon or drakon and everyone knowing that even the slightest of trespassing would bring both down on their heads.
No even a phoenix, another fire user, was safe from the hostility. Iano was likely learning that the hard way, Ky’ai thought with sympathy. It was hard, he knew, to have your family look at you as if you were the enemy. Not everyone was like Ky’ai, so obviously not a dragon from a young age, and they were unused to being treated like outsiders in their own home. To face the disappointment that would follow their differences.
To Ky’ai, it was like nothing had changed. His parents were still very much disappointed in him, Kona was the only one to talk to him (although not nearly as much as she had before being claimed as a Dragon, the suspicious behavior already taking hold) and Elder Aron was the only one that took pride in knowing him. Really, it was just another day in his life.
Except soon, he would be able to leave it all behind to go join a new home. Right now, he was the only Owl in all of the Great Kingdom. He was the one that was found worthy to restart an entire race of Spirit Shifters from the ground up. As far as he was concerned, it didn’t matter what everyone else thought. He already knew his worth in the world and he wasn’t about to let that be taken from him by them. Not again.
Right now, Ky’ai was packing up the few of his belongings that he would miss. Most of his room was decorated in drawings, things he had sketched while out in the woods. Removing them from the walls and binding them up in a leather journal, he stored it inside a leather pack that was enchanted to never break or wear. He had applied the enchantment himself a few years back when Elder Aron was beginning his lessons in more advanced magic. He figured he must of done a good job because the pack still looked brand new. A shining example of his prowess with magic, one that he had not shared with anyone other than Aron.
His blank sheets of parchment and his art supplies were placed in the pack, along with all of the clothing his owned. Nodding to himself, he closed the pack and set it on his bed. All of the other items in the room were standard children’s toys that Dragon hatchlings played with. They had rarely been used, much to his parent’s disappointment.
There was nothing else here that he was attached to beyond his Spirit Pendant. He had never seen the point of having a tower of belongings decorating his sleeping area. What was the point? He only ever spent time here when it was storming outside or to sleep. It didn’t need to be filled with pointless objects.
That was likely another sign that he had never been a Dragon, now that he considered it. Dragons loved shiny objects, hoarded them inside their well built dwellings. They loved things in general.
Ky’ai had never been able to see the point in it. As long as he had the necessities for survival and parchment to draw on, he had been rather pleased. “Goodbye,” he told the room. He would likely never be seeing it again after tonight. That, unsurprisingly, didn’t upset him at all.
The Dragon Council had finally gathered in the Main Hall and he had been sent for. He didn’t delude himself to thinking that they would be anything other than hostile to him and likely more so than in year previous. His parents weren’t going to be arguing for him anymore. With the Summer Solstice approaching, it would be better for his continued health to be anywhere but here when the newly claimed Dragons and Drakons (as well as a unicorn and phoenix) would assume their forms for the first time.
No matter what the council said, he would be long gone by dark. As an owl and someone that had spent days at a time in the forest with no discomfort, he had not doubts that he wouldn’t be able to make it alone. He was already well adapt at hunting and gathering food, he could make a shelter easily enough, and wildlife tended not to care all that much if he was present or not. His parents weren’t going to miss him and Kona would likely only feel a tad of sadness at his departure before moving on with her life. The only one that would care if he was gone or not was Elder Aron, and Ky’ai already had plans on personally saying goodbye to the man that had taken it upon himself to teach Ky’ai everything he knew.
Placing a note on his bed, one that would tell his parents of his decision once they finally wondered where he was, Ky’ai swung the pack over his back and tied a shawl over his shoulders. Summer nights were very rarely cold, but it would do well to have some warmth for when it stormed. Then he exited the room through his window, not even bothering to glance back as he walked away.
The Main Hall of the Dragon Province was located at the edge of the border between the road that would lead into the deeper part of the Mountain forest and the beginning of town. No one knew why it had been built there and no one cared to look through the records in the Record Hall to find out. Dragons weren’t a very studious bunch. Sometimes Ky’ai wondered why there was a Record Hall at all.
It was that road that Ky’ai would use to leave that night. The Main Hall blocked the road from sight and it was very unlikely that anyone would see him leaving. Circling around the building to hide his pack in the bushes, Ky’ai felt a thrill of anticipation as the thought that he was finally going to be leaving. He was finally going to be striking out on his own, in the forest where no disapproving eyes would ever find him. No one would care if he was gone, and frankly he didn’t really want them to care. It would make this that much easier if they didn’t care. It was already going to hurt to say goodbye to Elder Aron.
Shaking such thoughts from his head, Ky’ai circled back around the Main Hall to enter form the center doors where the Dragon Council would be expecting him to appear from. No need to alert them to his plans just yet.
The Council was already bickering over what to do with him when he arrived. Elder Aron looked to be the only one arguing for him out of the lot of them, not that Ky’ai had expected anything different. “He has not even begun to learn how to assume his Spirit form!” his mentor was yelling to another member. “To force him out now would be nothing short of cruel, Lya!”
Elder Lya opened her mouth to argue with him when she noticed him standing in the doorway, staring at her. Ky’ai was careful to keep his expression blank, but he knew that his eyes would be glowing with restrained emotions, likely unnerving those that noticed. Her mouth snapped shut and she had the decency to look repentant and embarrassed. Elder Aron frowned at her before realization set in and he turned to face Ky’ai, his eyes sad. It looked like most of them had already reached a decision, the one that Ky’ai had expected them to.
They wanted him gone sooner rather than later then. It was good that he had already made that decision for them. Even if they decided to give him a few more days before he was to leave, he would still be gone tonight.
“Ky’ai, former member of the Dragon Province,” he was addressed by one of the other Elders. He didn’t know their name but he turned his attention to the man anyways. He had not been raised to be rude. “What have you to say for yourself?”
Glancing at Elder Aron in apology for what he was about to say, Ky’ai ignored the amused eyes of his mentor to address the rest of the elders. “You’re a bunch of hypocritical, anal, old sots.” He said rather bluntly, pleased with how the flinch backwards in surprise. “You’ve preached acceptance towards the other provinces all of our lives, yet a soon as the Ceremony is over, those that aren’t Dragons are shunned. Iano is currently curled up in a ball, likely sobbing from the disappointed and hostile glares being shot his way for being a Phoenix instead of a Drakon like the rest of his family. Kisa seems to be contemplating drowning herself if they way she’s looking at the river is any indication. And you’re acting like being chosen by the Owl is a crime in itself. Frankly, you disgust me.”
He had the full attention of every single one of them, most of them looking horrified. He wasn’t all that sure what was horrifying them. That he was talking like this to them or that Kisa was apparently considering suicide. “This is the first time in my entire life you’ve paid attention to me more than just commenting on how my parents must be so ashamed. I’m not a Dragon or a Drakon. I’m not a Wyren, Phoenix, Unicorn, Faerie, Moon-Born, or even a Warlock. I’m the only Owl in all of the Great Kingdom, the first in centuries. And the first thing you, Elder Lya, concerned yourself with was whether or not I could hide it.”
Lya blanched at the shocked looks that were swung her way. “Didn’t think I was listening?” Ky’ai asked, allowing a vindictive smirk. “You also probably didn’t notice I was there when you talked about invading the Phoenix Province in order to gain more land. Or when you, Elder Nya, talked about disowning those that didn’t display signs of being a Dragon.”
He had the full attention of the witnesses now, as well. Most looked utterly disgusted. That wasn’t even the worst of the dirt he had on the Council, and from the looks on their faces, they knew it. “I’m much more interesting to you now, aren’t I? You should really be more careful of where you speak about sensitive information, shouldn’t you?”
He let what he had said sink in before smiling sharply. He may have been pray to a dragon but in truth, he was still a predator. “So what do you, Council of the Hypocrites, have to say for yourselves?”
There was silence. Well, until Elder Aron burst out laughing. “I told you there was more to him than he let you see,” he bragged to them. “The Wise Owl waits, watches, and listens before attacking. Something that you all seem to have forgotten. Ky’ai is still the same hatchling that survived the Great Winter fourteen years ago, he has not changed at all. The only thing that has changed is the way you look at him. Before you saw a disappointment to the clan, now you see a stain and a threat. He is neither of these, you fools. He is the first Owl in generations and he hates the ground you all stand on.”
That was a bit of an exaggeration, Ky’ai thought. He didn’t really hate them. Strongly disliked them, yes, but they didn’t deserve the energy that it would take to hate them. He kept his face neutral, though. Aron was trying to break through the thick barrier that was their heads and he didn’t need Ky’ai correcting him during the delicate process that was. There was already a low chance of anything that was being said penetrating their thick heads.
“I have been telling you for years,” Aron told them all, his face losing all humor. “I’ve warned you time and time again that our arrogance and presumptuousness is why we are slowly losing our standing with the other Provinces. The Phoenixes, our once strongest allies, turned their backs on us fourteen years ago during the Great Winter and the cause of it was nothing other than our arrogance and that we snubbing of them years before. The state of our current generation can’t be ignored for much longer.”
“The Dragon Province is one of the most prestigious of all the Provinces!” Lya argued, back up by most of the other Elders and Council members. The witnesses, however, looked uncertain. Ky’ai figured this was because of all the information that was coming to light. He, himself, hadn’t known that the reason the Phoenixes turned their backs on them during the winter was due to something the Dragon Province had done.
“No,” Aron shook his head. “The Dragon Province was one of the most prestigious of all the Provinces. That was a long time ago, when we balanced our pride with kindness and not hostility. We turned our backs on the Natural Province and their Spirit Patrons during the Time of Change, and in doing so, we helped in driving their Spirit Patrons into hiding. We ignored our ally in their time of need, all because of a small dispute between representatives. That was three hundred years ago and we have allowed our hostility to grow since then. The Phoenix Province and the Wyren Province looked to us for help when the Outlanders attacked them and we ignored them. So they returned the favor during the Great Winter where our children and people began to die.”
This was a bit of history that Ky’ai had never heard before. Judging from the looks on the faces of the younger members of the Council and the Witnesses, they had not heard it before now either. It was interesting that the Elders had kept this truth under wraps. Not that it would stay that way any longer. Dragons were horrible gossips.
“That was fifty years ago!” Lya protested.
“The Phoenix never forgets,” Aron countered. “They don’t forget and they won’t allow others to forget. Ky’ai was raised with us and even he holds contempt for us! Name one member of this Province that has not looked down on him! And I do not count, Lya.” The woman shut her mouth and began to think. And continue to think as she realized that besides Aron, no one, there was no else that had never judged Ky’ai at least once. Even Kona, back when they were young, had been wary and judgmental of him.
“You cannot,” he said triumphantly. “You sit here and say that we are the most prestigious Province and yet we treat differences even among ourselves with distain. We treat our own hatchlings like pariahs when they are different. Once, we were kind and righteous, but now we are only a shell of what we were. We must change or continue as we have and bring destruction down on ourselves.”
This was not how Ky’ai had pictured this meeting going like. He had always known Elder Aron was the most respected of the Council and he knew that the man would try to fight for him. He had known but he had not expected him to succeed. That didn’t change his decision, however. The Dragon Province may have been his birthplace, the place where he was raised and learned, but it was not his home. It had never felt like his home.
It never would feel like his home either. He was an Owl, not a Dragon or a Drakon. He would never be comfortable living amongst them, his instincts wouldn’t allow him to. That was true for all of the different Spirit Shifters of each Province and it was the reason that they lived separate. You could have friends amongst the other Provinces and even visit them a few times after your Spirit claimed you, but they wouldn’t be able to live together comfortably.
That was why the Great Kingdom had split itself. The Dragons had claimed the largest mountain, needing the space and open airs. The Phoenixes had claimed the volcano to the south, not needing to worry about the lava causing them injury. The Wyrens had claimed the valley in between, their source of food only growing and living in that area. The Unicorns had claimed the great forest to the North and the Moon-Born had claimed the Islands to the East. The Warlocks lived all year in the middle of the Provinces where the Winter Solstice gathering was held. The Islands to the South were the Mundane Province, where the Natural Spirits had once resided and where the Un-Gifted now lived.
No one knew where the Faerie Province was, the Fae keeping the secret closely guarded, only ever showing themselves during the Winter Solstice. And, of course, the Sky Kingdom watched them from the clouds above, having retreated into themselves centuries prior. No one alive even knew what form they took anymore and they became more myth than legend.
The only part of the land that wasn’t claimed was the Great Desert, stretching on forever in the west. No one knew how far the desert stretched as no one dared to face the Outcast in order to find out. It was the only part of the Great Kingdom that went unexplored by them all. Ky’ai only knew the bare basics about the desert from records in the library. Most of the information was so old that he was afraid to touch the scrolls and tomes in case they fall apart underneath his hands.
The Council continued to debate between themselves, forgetting that Ky’ai even existed and that he and the Witnesses were present. Aron’s speech was fresh in their minds as new and old matters were brought up to be decided upon until it was past dusk and they had not reached any new conclusions before they were adjourned for the day and they began to file out of the Main Hall, chatting about what had been learned during the meeting.
In other words, it was the perfect opening for Ky’ai to slip away. He hid himself in one of the used rooms, making sure that he hadn’t been followed. After listening and hearing no one coming, he pried open the window in the room and slipped outside, leaving it open behind him. It didn’t matter whether he closed it or not, it was unlikely they would ever connect the window to his disappearance. Dragons’ had never been considered inherently wise, after all.
Making his way to the bush where he had stashed his pack earlier that day, he was unsurprised to see Elder Aron waiting for him. Aron was one of the only people in the Province to know him well enough to predict his thoughts. Kona was the only other person who would have known what he was going to do and her lack of presence was, in all likeliness, a show of approval. If she had come, then she would be duty bound to report him. While she was still adjusting to his claiming, she was still his best and only friend. It was nice, he thought as he began walking towards his mentor, to know that she cared.
“I thought this would be your decision,” Aron addressed him, not needing to look to know that he had appeared. “The Dragon Province will change, eventually, but for beings that can live for centuries, change takes time. It is likely that I will not live to see it, or even you young ones.”
“You didn’t warn them.” Ky’ai said, knowing that it wasn’t a question. Aron wouldn’t have come alone if he had warned them.
“No. Change can only begin with a ripple big enough to spark it. Your departure it the ripple that we need.” Aron told him kindly. “I have come to wish you well and to give you a gift.”
In the Elder’s hands was a large tome. It was filled to the brink of its bindings with parchment sticking out of the edges of all three sides. Ky’ai stared at it in confusion before looking up at his mentor. “What is it?”
“It is a guide.” Aron told him kindly. “It will teach you everything that I would have, should you have stayed. This is not all there is, however. The rest of my gift can be found further up the road ahead. I’m sure you will know it when you see it.”
It was one of Aron’s teachings, the first one that he had ever taught Ky’ai: nothing is gained without work. If Ky’ai wanted the second half of his farewell gift, he would have to find it for himself. Grinning at his mentor, he accepted the book gratefully.
“Live well, Ky’ai.” Aron told him before turning to make his way home. He paused and turned back towards him. “And visit an old man once in a while.”
“I will.” Ky’ai promised. Aron smiled at him before continuing onwards in the group of houses and stone paths that would lead to the man’s home. He would miss his mentor, one of the few things about this place that he would miss.
Closing his eyes and stealing himself for the journey ahead, Ky’ai turned towards the forest and began to walk. He would need to get a ways away before settling for the night.
“Goodbye,” he whispered to the parents that likely had yet to realize he’d gone.
Silence greeted his farewell.
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