Swiftlet's Honor

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Chapter One 

When I was a child, the sky was full of swiftlets. I would wake up before dawn and wait for them. In between the liminal time of dawn and early morning, they would arrive, a flock of tiny dark shapes darting about in their own language of flight. I would watch them, wishing that they would stop flying, because they were so fast, so swift. 

Yet when I grew older, all I wanted was to see the swiftlets fly. That was when the Two-Headed came and turned my home into burning fields. That was the time when the sky was empty. 

The Two-Headed were vile beasts who came in their shining ships, wielding their energy weapons. They bore the heads of Terran equines, hideous abominations with red eyes and sharp teeth. They plundered my home and forced us into hiding. I was young then, no more than eleven.  

Jadeen taught me archery. We did not have energy weapons. We had seen the damage wrought upon human flesh. We fought back the way our ancestors had.  

The Hiders attacked the Two-Headed in hit-and-run raids, destroying their camps, stealing their food, because they were consuming ours. 

I was angry and I grew more so when I turned fourteen.  

I cut my mane off on the Day of Light Winds, our New Year. It was a significant day. The harvest was done and the sun was warm, inviting. The fields would shimmer with the ripening gold saleet, the grain my home was known for. It was the day when the grandmothers would pound the grain into flour, before making the grilled buns filled with meat and chopped river chives. 

It was the traditional day of plenty. Everyone looked forward to it. I cut my mane, telling myself that it was my own rite of passage.. 

The surviving families had retreated into the nashot cliffs, tunneling into the myriad caves. Swiftlets used to live in these caves, building their delicate bowl-shaped nests on the inner cave walls. Now they were gone, the caves bereft of their fluttering wings and high-pitched chirps. Where the swiftlets used to fly rose tiny fire places, surrounded by huddled groups of men, women and children. We had all grown used to the layers of guano and the rippling sea of insects feeding on the dead and dying. Children had learnt how to cover their noses, ears and mouths when they slept.  

Looking at my family and friends fueled an anger within me. They should not be suffering like this! I stalked out of the cliffs, into the humid night, bow in my claws..  

The night wind brought the scents to my nose. The sula trees so alive with amber sap. The vines of glow-blooms lighting the night path. Somewhere, a clear stream cut through the forest: sweet sweet aqua. We were the descendents of Terran colonists, but our bodies had evolved.  

I smelled a rank disturbing scent, like rotting algae ponds: The Two-Headed.  

My nose wrinkled. I licked my upper canines. They had not grown sharp yet. I had not come of age. My rite of passage was not over. 

I crept purposefully forward, my nightwalk now a hunt. My feetpads moved quietly on the forest loam, feeling it warm and awake through the sensitive skin. There was a band of Two-Headed roving about. They were inching towards the nashot cliffs.  

I got down on my knees, crawling. A part of me wanted to alert Jadeen, my father and the uncles. Or rally the grandmothers. For a moment I was afraid. 

Their guttural snorts informed me that I was close. They were pacing in front of one of the least explored cliffs. The smell of guano was overwhelming. Their equine faces grimaced, showing their unnatural teeth. "Horses do not have sharp teeth," one of the old grandmothers had told me. She was the Storykeeper, protecting our histories. Except that the Two-Headed were not horses. 

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