Kate had always adored thunderstorms. Even when she was tiny, she loved the rolling sound of thunder and the roar of a downpour. The flash of lightning reassured her while other children shrieked with instinct-borne terror. In their primal way, the low rumbling of approaching storms even managed to bring out the almost forgotten fears of childhood in those who thought themselves long past such things. When the uncanny glow that preceded the incoming thunderheads tinted the landscape, it drew out a level of trepidation that many didn’t even realize had come over them. Children would whimper and flinch with fear, as unease would light in the eyes of their parents.
That never happened to Kate. She loved the way the air would grow heavy before impending storms, as though a thick blanket had enveloped her against a chilling wind. To Kate the feel of thunder reverberating in her chest and the faint electric tingle lighting across her skin was as comforting to her as her mom’s warmest hugs. While everyone she knew hunkered down to wait out the rain, Kate longed to be out in it, a part of it. When the rain came down in sheets and the very walls that kept the storm out trembled in the face of its intensity, a part of her felt light and free, even when she was confined inside, longing to whirl and dash along with the wind. More than once she had allowed the gusts to pull her along like an old friend before being called inside, and more than once she had been caught out in a storm, much to the fearful chagrin of her mother.
It was during one such instance when everything changed for Kate.
As the wind called and beckoned her along with it, she found herself pulled beyond the borders of the village. It urged her past the fields and their writhing, whipping stalks to the edge of the woods that had begun growing generations ago amid the great stone and metal structures that overshadowed the only home she’d known.
The sky had grown dark and the rain was only just beginning to pelt down, the sharp, stinging drops quickly giving way to fat drenching ones that fell so heavily that she could barely see three feet ahead. As lightning flashed overhead, even Kate had to grudgingly admit she needed to find someplace to wait it out, and made a dash for the woods and its relative shelter; it was far closer than the village.
By the time she reached the protective boughs Kate was out of breath, her legs beginning to shake from the strain of pushing on through the soaked brush and over increasingly soggy ground while a persistent ache in her back flared from the exertion. Yet that didn’t stop the smile that came to her lips as she peered out from under the waterlogged foliage to the roiling blue-black sky overhead, feeling the peeling roll of thunder vibrating though her body. As she leaned back against a particularly massive maple, the old tree trembling in time with the thunderclaps overhead, she absently wondered if she was going to regret sitting down between its gnarled roots. After all, the ground and its blanket of old leaves was nearly boggy with all the rain and though she was soaked through and already mud-spattered, she wasn’t entirely sure if the appeal of nestling herself against the tree to watch the storm was enough to outweigh getting herself dirtier than she already was.
It was as she began sliding down toward the ground—what was a little more mud, after all, when she was already covered—that the back of her neck began to tingle. Her skin always seemed to prickle and shiver as storms came rolling in, but this was different. Storms never made her uneasy or uncomfortable, but the instant that tingle began to run up her spine Kate couldn’t help but tense, a small spike of nervous energy jolting through her.
She wasn’t alone.
Kate didn’t know what instinct drove her, but after a long, dragging moment she turned, pushed by some compulsion that her head was telling her to ignore.
There, peering out from behind an adjacent, darker grove of trees, was a woman.
She was watching Kate with dark, intense eyes that narrowed when Kate turned. She was older than Kate, though it was hard to tell just how old through the deep shadows thrown by the trees and the dimness of the storm. Her dark, short-cropped hair was barely long enough to brush against the vivid scar that slashed across her forehead from the hairline above her right eye over the bridge of her nose to just barely miss her left eye before dashing across her cheek. If it hadn’t been for the flash of steel appearing in her hand, Kate wouldn’t have been able to stop herself from staring at the old wound. She had never seen anyone like this woman before in her sheltered life.
The glimpse of this woman in the shadows was nearly enough to transfix Kate to the point where all thought of flight was forgotten…nearly. Her muscles quivering with the urge, she leaned away from her sheltering tree, taking one last look at the other woman. Evidently, the stranger had the same idea, her entire body seeming to coil with readiness as she moved from the shelter of her grove.
When she took a step forward out of the brush Kate froze in truth. The strange woman was tall, taller than Kate was herself. It wasn’t something she was entirely used to. Kate was taller than most of the women she knew and some of the men too. She was also slender, and while growing up, looked almost painfully skinny, even malnourished despite having an appetite that had rivaled all the children she knew and even a few of the grown-ups. This woman before her was slender too, though her frame was more filled out with lean muscle that Kate’s was. As the stranger uncoiled herself from where she had been waiting out the storm, Kate had little doubt that she had that muscle because of one good reason. She was a fighter, a warrior.
And as her pitch black, membranous wings melted out of the darkness behind her, Kate knew precisely what kind of warrior she was. The name spilled out of her with a gasp as her body was suddenly freed from its shock-induced paralysis, her feet already stumbling as she backed away.