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A whistle in the distance was followed by an explosion which echoed throughout the surrounding mountains. Several more explosions and cracks in the land followed before a steady calm returned to the valley. A howling wind blew across the vast snowy field. Stumps and thin strips of scarred remains filled the void as a sign of a once vibrant forest. A few trees still stood in the snow, reaching toward the heavy gray clouds in defiance of the destruction brought upon the rest of the land.
Atop a branch riddled with shrapnel sat a white hawk, its gold eyes studying Natalia’s slumped figure riding the large feathered volferd trudging through the deep snow with its two long legs.
Another series of explosions echoed in the distance. The hawk took off with a rush of feathers.
Natalia sat up alert at the sudden flap of wings. She breathed a sigh of relief once she spotted the hawk landing further away on the branch of a tree nearly drowning in snow. “How long have we been going, Revu?” The black feathers along the volferd’s neck softened under her gloved touch. She looked to the north at the sound of more falling shells with a grimace. “Endless barrages.” Her hand moved to her chest as she felt the shock waves vibrating at a low hum through the field of snow.
Revu looked back, her right golden eye blinking. A low purr emanated from within the thick neck of the volferd.
She turned from the noise to meet Revu’s gaze. “I’m sure you’re just as hungry as I am.” Leaning back slightly in the saddle, Natalia looked around at the snowy field stretching beyond to the steps of the mountains. The same destroyed forest lay on all. Markings on the trees and boulders created by past travelers made a path out of the dead forest to the town ahead, its buildings poking above the sloping hill before her. “That has to be the town of Bosavan, or we’re lost.” She gently pulled on the reigns until Revu came to a halt. “Hopefully it is…” She twisted around and began to rummage through the pack on the back of the saddle. “Map… map… where’s the map.”
Revu let out a couple of short little chirps.
She looked back and saw Revu’s large beak curling around to try to get an angle to see past her shoulder. “Some personal space please?”
Another short chirp.
“Come on, Revu, just because you have a long neck doesn’t mean you should poke your beak into everything.” Natalia replied, placing a hand on the volferd’s beak and pushing gently.
Revu pulled back with a click of her beak.
“You know you’re stubborn, right?” Natalia asked, staring into the golden eye tilting toward her. “And nosy.” She sighed and returned to rummaging through the pack. Her finger caught on a hole near the bottom and she peered around the pack to see her finger poking out the other side. “How have I not died yet?” She closed the pack and frowned.
“Oh, right!” Natalia reached along the pack to a side compartment and found a neatly folded square. Opening the paper, she looked over the details with eagerness. “Let’s see, the village of Lushvan is right there… and assuming we took the Bosakil Mountain Pass, correctly…” She looked up with a smile. “Then this is it. The town of Bosavan.” Her hand tightened around the reigns.
“Down, Revu,” she commanded.
The volferd’s wings unfolded to their full, massive span allowing Natalia to free her legs from the saddle. Revu lowered herself gently and let out a small whine of delight as she stretched out her body.
Natalia hopped down the side of the saddle and landed in the fresh snow, which came halfway up her shin, just below where her boots ended. “Deeper than I thought.” She took a deep breath and raised her hands high into the air to arch her back. Finishing her stretch, she brushed her tightly-braided blonde hair back over her shoulder and stepped around to a pack resting against the side of the saddle.
Another chirp. Revu folded her wings and moved her head back as to poke her beak against the bag near her large red-tipped tail feathers.
“I know, you’re hungry, just give me a moment.” Natalia loosened the bag from the saddle and opened it up to see the waiting seeds within. “Running low on your food already.” She set the bag on the ground in front of Revu. “We may have to ration it for the return trip.” She gently brushed Revu’s head as the volferd eagerly stuffed her beak into the open bag, her rough tongue slurping up the seeds and nuts.
“This is nice.” Natalia looked out at the snowy field and then toward the low hanging gray sky above. “These past few days of traveling have been so quiet and peaceful. I forgot how much I missed it.” She took a deep breath of the chilled air.
Another series of explosions went off in the distance, followed by an echo throughout the mountains. Her smile was replaced by a grimace as she closed the bag and tied it back to the side of the saddle before grabbing a small ration bar for herself. “I miss home.” She looked to Revu who returned a glare with one of her golden eyes. “I’m sure you miss it too, girl. All the beautiful fields to run through and clear streams to drink from.” Natalia gently ran her hand along Revu’s beak with a forced smile. “And I’m sure you miss all the food too.”
Revu chirped in reply and peeked at the pack once more.