Bold words once spoken on the great trunk of a fallen redwood where she danced and the wind whipped angry around her. Lethy had scolded her feral daughter, her words almost lost in the roar of air that surrounded them. It had been a foolish, childish retort to a mother's concern, and now it brings a rueful grin to her lips. She hadn't ever fallen from that high before, that was true, and it afforded her a ridiculous security in her young heart as she played above a chasm ready to swallow her up into the thorns and mud and tea-dark water below.
But Popinjay was growing, and she had learned caution. Some. Perhaps not quite enough.
By day break, she had reached the foot of the mountain. It was one of the few places she had not wandered, and her dark eyes glittered in the midsummer sun. At its base, the world was a shock of green and gold, every kind of tree and grass and flower growing at the convergence of the common lands. The birds flew wild with joy and she tossed her mane at them as they flit about, seeking seed and berry and bug for their young. Some are already on their second broods, others still coaxing their first fledgelings. A young hawk watched her from a nearby branch, down still poking through his first molt. Although his face was serious with its frowning beak and dark eyes, the way he sat the branch was awkward and ungainly, as if he were not used to the stance, and Popinjay snorted a laugh at him as though she, too, was not still awkward and ungainly. He, in response, merely repositioned his wing and turned his attention back to the grasses, looking for rodents scuttling through the undergrowth. He would not have a long wait in this place of abundance, but his skill at hunting was poor and the young bay watched him pounce unsuccessfully time after time. Too slow, too clumsy.
However, Poppy had not come to watch a bird miss his prey, and as he was not of Turul's brood, she left him alone with his struggles. Kill or die. Most likely, he will die. Life is not kind to young raptors.
It took no time at all for the verdant green of the foothills to become something else, but the rocky grey terrain had not deterred her. Why should it, when she has conquered many such places along the Taigan border with Hyaline and Nerine. She is no less surefooted on the stoney paths than the wooded ones, but where the sound of her footsteps is swallowed by the loam of her foggy forest, here those dark hooves rang merrily on ironstone and granite. She laughed and bucked and picked up a swinging trot that ate up the ground and made the gravel crunch underfoot.
Up, up, up. There were signs all over that others had taken this trip, and that most had made it at least this far. Below the river was a thread of light, reflecting the sun and shining back up into the sky like molten silver, like fast-flowing magma, and the thought of it made the scars on her flank burn with memory. The height and the cool press of the air had made her giddy and she squealed and rocked back on her haunches to leap up from the path made by ages of hooves and onto a ledge long ignored by most passers-by. For a moment her hooves scrabbled for purchase, but they found their footing and she set to the arduous climb as though it were nothing, as though she were a mountain goat and this was her home. She had often found such climbing effortless as a foal, and this was no different.
There was one difference, of course, and that was what stood at the mountain's very top, lost in snow. Fairies and magic and wishes. They had been dangled in front of her since the first day she arrived in Taiga, the world teemed with magic and wonders that she didn't understand, and maybe she would understand things better if she had stopped more, had listened more, but it had never been her way, and so she had taken off without a word, with barely a thought, lest Owin find her thinking too loudly and try to stop her.
Well, he could try, she thought with a wicked grin. The wind was picking up, wet and wild and full of the scent of snow. Popinjay snorted against it, pinpricks of ice picking at the gloss of her dappled summer coat. Her ears fell back into the thick tangle of her mane for warmth, but the chill struck her full tilt with a rush a wind. The storm came with no more warning than that, in a moment the clarity of the summer day was lost to white and wind and Poppy, stubborn, travelled up and up and up with gritted teeth.
She didn't even have a request.
The Fairies would probably kick her right off their mountain for bothering them.
The thought made her cough out a laugh and she paused for a moment to take her bearings, but, of course, there is nothing to see when you are so high that the snowstorm is happening inside the clouds, still. White and grey and the dull glistening of wet black rocks and ice old as the stars. The river below was gone, the rich green foothills, the dark shadow of the forest, even the peaks of Hyaline were gone. She had not returned to anything resembling a path made by horses, still winding through the ones made by goats and sheep and even those are growing scarce. At this height the vegetation is thinning, mostly lichen and tough, short grasses, the rare, twisted juniper eking out some miserable existence giving shelter to marmots and pika, but of no use to her. Nothing to do but keep going, and so she did, trusting in the feet that have never failed her.
Perhaps that was her mistake.
Or maybe it was the Fairies, after all.
There was a moment when she placed her hoof down firmly and with confidence, but it betrayed her. Poppy gasped as she slid forward on ice she had not seen, one front leg buckling beneath her while the other shot forward. Her back legs scrabbled for purchase on the slick rocks and found none, slipping faster down the flat, icy, bed of a sluice cutting down the mountainside. Her attempts to grab at something - anything - to stop her descent set her to spinning and tumbling wildly until the Mountain itself ejects her like a horse shaking flies from its coat.
She was airborne.
She is airborne.
She barely breathes as she falls, her vision constricting around the edges, tight and dark. The mountain rushes past but she doesn't see it, lost in memory. There is a sharp edge to the wild grin that spreads across her face, remembering those bold words spoken into her mother's chest. I've never fallen from this high before. No, but from much higher... Her eyes, shut tight against the sting of the icy wind that screams around her, open to find the rapidly approaching ground, the tops of trees coming into focus with a sickening speed. What was a limp acceptance becomes a sudden bloom of panic in her breast, an unfamiliar feeling that makes her squeal and flail so that her body twists midair.
"No, no, no, NO!" she shouts to the black vultures wheeling on the thermals that she streaks through. She remembers the young fledgling hawk. "I don't know how to land!"
The ground beckons nauseatingly and she screws her eyes shut again against the coming impact. Her stomach drops and her shoulders ache. She knows she is dead.
The wind lessens, grows warmer. Her eyes are still shut. This is death. I am dead, she thinks, am I still falling? Will she fall forever, even in death? It seems unnecessary. At last she opens her eyes, and her gasping cry echoes against the Mountain. For a moment, wide wings falter and she drops, but they lock in place again and lift her back into the air until she sails the thermals, dwarfing the vultures that scatter away from her. She is enormous - as big as a dragon -and she is flying!