This is chapter one of the novel I’m self-publishing this year, soon, in a few months, I don’t have a launch date yet. Soon. If you like it, sign up for the email list in the box at the end of the post to be notified when it’s published.
What the crow-girl Fannilea was about to do was not the right and true thing.
It was alone. It was different. It was not the will of the Murder. It was not all together.
It was against shek — against their way. Against what was meant to be her way.
How could she? They would say. Not good, they would caw. Against your people. Stop, stop.
But something inside of her begged her to do it—had begged her, for ever long, to do it. She couldn’t name it, that feel. It was two things at once — a fear creator, but also a movement maker. It called to her. Looksee! it said. Here is another way. A different way. A better? way …
It called to her, louder than the dark voice of her people said Safe in the Ahk is the way.
Yes, here in the Ahk was safety, maybe. Ahk, the nest, the home. The place of belonging. Here, her whole life planned. Here, knowing who she was. Shek, the way. Her life’s work — to follow it.
Here, that was all.
Out there? Some sparkle-brightness, maybe. Some way to follow that thing inside, begging. She had kept it there since youth, trying to be of her people, but keeping on wondering. Of late, she had planned. She had waited. She had readied.
Now the time had come.
One gnarly-bent tree grew here in the Ahk nest. Perched near the top, she angled herself off a thin branch, claws clinging, dipping out over space, muscles snappy-sharp. Her half-ruined left wing hung crooked, but that would be no stopping-block. She had taught herself to live — and fly — with it as well as any Kaa; she had had no other choice.
The crow-girl trembled. She had power and she had fear, and she did not know which was stronger.
If they caught her, would they kill her? Throw her in the erawk, that much was certain. She would not let them do that to her again. But neither could she stay in this empty-of-life place.
The Murder lay beneath her, dead to the world, totaled by makeberry juice. Black-feathered bodies littered the pebbled ground, motionless like lumps of charcoal, burnt up and sooty. Tonight they would not stop her. Tonight she would use the thought of their laid-out crow selves as fuel for the flight ahead. She would leave them there, useless things, and start new.
This was one chance; there might not be another. The Murder broke free of rules only by order of shek — once per human year cycle, a part of the ritual Aug festival. The rest of the time, they were always checking checking checking.
One human-month, the Aug was. A feel of burst-apart, like fireworks, bubbled beneath her skin, and the only thing stopping it was the plan she kept close to her feathered breast. She had joined the festival, as she must. Ate alk’aw, she had, though it tasted of dust and gritted like sand in the beak (what else would you expect from bread made by dead souls?). Sang that kekked song of fealty again and again and again — so much singing! And read passages from the most-high book of the blessed ways of shek. Done it all, she had, like a good member of the Murder.
Even the worst, she had done, been able to do, because of her heart’s plan. Thinking of it got her through the not-flying.
Not-flying was the worst.
Flap, ascend, buoyment, soardom, far above … flying was the only thing like itself. It was the best thing about being Kaa. It was her favorite.
But the Aug festival forbade it, and obey the law she had. Now the Aug had, after a feeling of so long, come to an end. The Kaa had tossed out the last of the alk’aw and turned to their joyful festival-ending meal of makeberries. Through the human-month of the festival, the makeberries hung on the bushes and fermented, and after that their special juice enslaved the Kaa to more-more-more desires. One makeberry at the Aug’s end made them eat eat eat.
They stuffed their bellies full. They sang and flapped and celebrated until they fell over like the dead, wherever they were in the moment the makeberry-fuzz took them. There they would lie, not stirring, until more hours from now.
For the crow-girl Fannilea, the smell had been the hardest. After a month of choking on alk’aw, stopping herself from drinking down the makeberries was not what she wanted. It needed much strength. Tartness burst around her as the Murder snapped berries in their beaks. Juice flowed over tongues, down the sides of beaks, and onto breast feathers.
Taste the tang, she almost could — oh how she had wanted it! Oh how she had felt it in her feather-points and claw-tips.
But not eating was the only way to escape.
So she had blinked her desire back and snapped her beak to resist. The others thought she was snapping up berries and berries, more berries.
It was not as hard to fool them as she had worried.
Thank her feathers for that, for Fannilea was not like her crow-family. She was not black-feathered. Against the dark wings of the Murder, Fannilea shone white. Sometimes, when she was crow in the human world, and she stood in the sunlight at just the right angle, at just the right time, her feathers glowed, iridescent. The light danced against them as though catching the shimmer of a layer of silver dust.
The Murder did not like it.
Fannilea knew she should not like it either. She should want black-featheredness, like the others. She should want to belong. Shek said, There is no room for ones. Only all.
But Fannilea could not deny her secret pride. Her white feathers gleamed, and they were beautiful, and they were hers. She did not want to be ashamed.
Tonight, she did not have to be. For those white feathers had saved her. They had made the working of her plan. They had given her this moment.
On ebony feathers, makeberry juice cannot be seen; it disappears. A black-feathered Kaa may drink up and mash down as many makeberries as she pleases, and a stain will never show. She might be sticky, but the Murder would not see.
But on clean white feathers, makeberry juice drips down the breast in slim pathways, and then, as one rivulet joins another, morphs into an uneven, spreading patch. It seeps into the feathers and more, bleeds into the layer of down beneath. Deep there, it will hold fast for days and days after that crow-girl indulges, a mark of her difference.
But tonight, Fannilea had not indulged. She snapped her beak, waddled with feigned tipsiness, and hopped with only partially pretended merriment.
Instead of drinking and eating for true, she smashed berries against her chest, throwing her head, letting the stain spread, letting it brand her as a part-doer in this, her final Aug festival—even as she fizzed with glee at her coming soon goodbye.
Drunk themselves, the Murder believed.
Too caught up, they let her be and passed out flat.
A flash of pride she had for this, a successful plan — though shek forbade that, too. Pride makes us ugly.
But she must wait no longer; it was time to go. She spread her tail feathers.
Down below, a wing fluttered.
Fannilea’s crow-heart leapt.
A beady eye opened.
Kek. She had dallied too long. Someone was awake.
Nestling mate and crow-brother Corley, he of the white-tipped feathers, cranked his head up to pinchy-peer at her.
Surely Corley would not betray her. They had grown up together.
“Doing what, sister-crow?”
She did not answer.
Corley struggled against makeberry-fuzz. He scrabbled, wings flailing, claws scritching. But he could get no purchase; his limbs were weak.
“Cannot go,” he whispered.
Yes, she argued. Yes, go.
Alarm reflected in his eyes, and she could see that he would not keep quiet. Corley opened his beak.
Fannilea, balanced against her crooked wing, unleashed the other. Flapping hard, she launched from the branch, her beak pointed in the direction of her ultimate goal: the human world.