Artwork by Anthony Green
While Gina was being celebrated as the new Dragonmeer of Rennou, her brother Zack, with the help of the immense bird Aviar, had resumed his search for her. Meanwhile, Zack’s former captor, Liulah the cloud shepherd, was rediscovering her humanness.
Aviar swept down over the foothills and then, gliding on thermals, swung out over the steppelands of southern Gerd. They flew so close that Zack could make out patterns in the tall grass. He watched stately elk lope across the hilltops, the grass parting around them like chevrons of water around ships; he saw goat-like creatures bounding on heavy kangaroo legs toward protective stands of trees, and was a bit rattled when one looked up and cursed in an actual spoken language.
Neither Zack nor Aviar had had any idea where to look. They knew Gina would not likely be in the Northern Mountains, so they headed south. Once they reached the grassy plains, Aviar approached his feathered brethren. It was no use speaking to the smaller birds—they would faint dead away at the mere sight of a giant Sheya—but when he saw a hawk or a raven, he would call out in reassuringly throaty “ch-wooks” and “ch-roos.”
Once it they were assured he meant no harm, Aviar would execute a falling gesture with his wing, and make sounds that represented “human” and “girl.” But each answered with a discouraging “no.” They flew for hours, but always received the same reply:
Liulah had encountered more revelations than most sylphs experience in a lifetime: she’d captured a human boy and thought for a time she might be able to keep him; she’d learned that she herself was once human, with a brother who, according to Mother and Father Cloud, had abandoned her; and in the process, she’d discovered that Mother and Father Cloud were not her real parents. Come to think of it, she’d never actually heard of a sylph giving birth. Did all sylphs (cloud shepherds) start out as humans?
She’d always wondered why the younger sylphs seemed so human while the older ones, like Mother and Father Cloud, seemed so, well, not-human. The oldest sylph, the one known as Great-Grandfather Cloud (only younger sylphs have names), had no body at all, just a wandering set of eye holes. Other than that, he was indistinguishable from his cloud, and seemed to like it that way. If a sylph could be said to “like” anything, that is, for the goal of all sylphs is to rise above temporal feelings, just as they rise above the earth.
All sylphs but Liulah. Letting go of Zack had been the hardest thing she’d ever done. On the one hand, it seemed appropriately sylph-like to release something she cared about—care was attachment, and attachment was bad. On the other hand, she’d done it for the wrong reason: it had been for Zack’s sake, not her own, and far from feeling detached or peaceful, she’d felt horribly empty inside. But maybe, she thought, maybe I can be cured…
Of this awful caring.
Thoughts: Have you ever thought, “My life would be so much easier if I simply didn’t care about anyone?”
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