Concept art created for the Disney series The Wishing Map
While “falling into” Ismara, Zack had been waylaid by a cloud shepherd, and started to become one himself. Now, with Liulah’s help, he was struggling to turn human again and complete his fall to the ground.
They stared at one another, perplexed. “Maybe if you pushed,” said Zack. Liulah began pushing on his head, but he simply bobbed up and down like a floaty toy. “Well, I could…” She climbed onto his shoulders. Now he bobbed like a floaty toy with a rider. They started to laugh in rhythm with the bobbing. Liulah fell off of his shoulders, collapsing onto the cloud floor beside the hole. They laughed desperately, like people using up their final allotment of happiness.
When the laughter finally subsided, Liulah said, “We’ll just have to take you all the way down and see if you stick when we get there.”
Zack dared not tell her what waited below.
The two-storey-tall bird didn’t see Liulah’s light-staff strike the edge of the broken temple because light-staffs are only visible to cloud shepherds. Aviar did, however, notice the cauliflower formation rushing toward his cliff. This bothered him for two reasons: First, it was not behaving as a proper cloud should and, as one of the noble Sheyar, Aviar was a stickler for protocol. Second, and more importantly, it was about to interrupt his Raptor Cadets class.
Every year in the season of Birth, as the oldest and most revered of the Sheyar, Aviar would train an elite group of adolescents in the art of preying. Even though the young Sheyar were in their teens—between thirteen and eighteen feet tall—they were still in awe of the legendary bird.
“Hrrmmmm, errrrrrm, beaks forward!” Aviar commanded, jerking the Cadets’ attention away from the rapidly descending cloud and back to the cliffside classroom. “Now, if you’re in a dive and you spot a greb that’s larger than your original prey, or even a big meaty skeffie, what do you do?”
A skinny cadet raised his wing and offered a hesitant, “Sir, you evaluate whether—”
“No!” Aviar thundered. “If you spot another Uol-cursed target—forgive me, Lord—it means you’ve taken your eyes off your prey! And you never take your eyes off your prey! Hrrrmmmm, ermhrmm!”
Despite the presence of the imposing master hunter, the Sheyarlets couldn’t help snatching glances as the thick white cloud landed on the edge of their cliff. “Keldubar’s talons! Why can’t you just…” Aviar decided to go and inspect the vociferous vapor for himself.
Inside the cloud, Liulah and Zack were discussing what to do next. The moment they’d touched down, Zack had attempted to step onto the ground, but his only half-human body no longer recognized the earth as its home, and refused to leave the cloud.
Just as Liulah was about to suggest it might be too late, a huge head popped up into the chamber. It was Aviar, and he wasn’t pleased. “Ahhhhhhhh!” Zack recoiled. “I…uh…hey, big bird. Listen, I know you said before that you were going to cut off my—”
Before Zack could explain, a claw encircled him and jerked him to the ground below. “Noooooooo! Please let me explaaaaaaaiiiii…!”
“Zack!” Liulah screamed.
“It’s OK…” Zack yelled as his face hit the muddy snow, “…I hope!” And with a whisk of Aviar’s massive wing…
Liulah’s cloud was blown out of sight.
Thought: Has your fate ever been in the hands of someone who might want to kill you?
To read the next episode, click here.