The girl leaned into a maple tree and gently blew a light dusting of snow off the branch. A thin layer of ice encased the green leaf, magnifying veins and edges. It was perfectly preserved, frozen in time.
She studied the leaf for a moment, admiring the beautiful patterns and wondering if the ice would melt before the leaf died. Would the leaf continue to grow, providing sugars to the hungry tree? Or would autumn follow this sudden burst of winter, the leaf changing to red or yellow or orange in its coffin of ice then shrivel and die.
At least it would change before it died, she thought. She never changed. Even her scars faded over time. Some of them, at least.
She lifted her hand to her face and gingerly touched the stitches holding her eyebrow together. Sewing in the reflection of the window had once been challenging. But she had enough practice that the scar would be small.
A familiar bird called out in the canopy, expressing his distaste for the sudden snow in the middle of summer. It had been a beautiful sunny day when the snow started to fall, and the sun had stayed high in the sky when the girl went to bed. It was in the same position when she woke. It was still there when she brought in firewood, and as she checked her rabbit snares.
Now the light was fading either from an approaching storm or the arrival of dark. It was impossible to know without any sense of time. But it didn't matter; it wasn't like she could get lost. She pulled the hood of her heavy jacket up over her head and continued to wander, her brown eyes observing the frozen trees that had guarded her in this forest for longer than she could remember.
Her steps faltered then halted as she noticed an odd lump on the ground ahead of her. She knew every inch of this forest, in every type of weather. She couldn't get lost and she had never seen this lump before. The frosted lip of her scarf scratched her chin as her breathing accelerated. She approached the lump, placing one foot in front of the other without a sound.
A man lay in the snow. An actual person. His black hair was matted with dirt and dried blood and his face marred with cuts and scrapes. Both eyes were black, one was so swollen she could only see a slit where the lids met. Then her gaze landed on his pointed ear and her breath hitched.
She almost turned and fled, but what would be the point? Sapiens were faster, stronger, better. He could easily catch a human girl. But would he?
The girl looked down at the rest of the body. He wore a kind of battle armour made from hard leather and metal plates. It was ripped and cracked in places, blood seeping out from underneath the protective shields. Her eyes wandered down to the leg that was clearly broken, jutting out in an unnatural position. Grimacing she gulped in fresh air as she felt her last meal rolling around in her stomach. She looked away to the surrounding forest to keep from vomiting.
There were no tracks leading to the body. He was only partially buried in snow, so should have left a trail indicating how he arrived here. Still rooted on the spot the girl glanced around forest with a frown of concentration. A raven croaked above her and she tipped her head up to the sky. Branches had been snapped and hung up loose in the canopy.
The sapien groaned and shifted, finally jolting her out of place as she gasped in shock. She had assumed it was dead. But then it rolled on to its belly and revealed a set of wings that had been concealed in the snow.
"Huh. That's new."
The fire crackled to life in the stone fireplace and the girl carried a flame over to the oil lamp on the table. As the light illuminated the tiny space in her cabin she collapsed into her only chair and closed her eyes. The man lay on her bed in the corner of the room, his body awkwardly propped on its side to prevent further damage to his wings.
"Male," she repeated aloud.
Sapiens and faunids were male and female, not men and women. He looked like a human man but had sharper, more pronounced features. When she lifted his eyelid to check his response to light, the dilated pupils quickly narrowed into slits. But the wings were that of a faunid. She had never heard of a sapien with wings, but why not? Sapiens were full of magic. They could probably make wings if they wanted.
But why make wings instead of just making yourself fly? she wondered.
The thought spun around in the girl's brain, her imagination running wild with the endless possibilities magic could bring. A groan from the body on the bed brought her back to the room and she frowned at her indecision.
What if it is a faunid and I just brought it home? Will it kill me?
She was curious to let it try.
Instead she took a deep breath and let it out in a whoosh. Sapien or faunid, it was injured and unconscious and not going to survive much longer if she didn't do something about it.
The girl stood and wiped her hands on her shirt while she approached the bed. Leaning in close she carefully unbuckled the armour, searching for ties under the thick plates. She slid them off gently, noting where each piece fit and how it was designed to protect the warrior. The amour had intricate patterns carved on the plates. He had cared for it well, oiling the clasps and keeping grime from the building up. This was not the armour of a common soldier.
She pulled back what was left of his shirt revealing a finely toned chest sliced in half by a deep gash. The wound had clotted but was full of dirt and would need to be reopened and washed out. The male's abdominal muscles moved up and down quickly as he panted in unconsciousness.
The girl stepped back to look at the big picture and dropped the ragged shirt on the floor. The cut could wait; the leg was a bigger problem.
She untied the buckle to his pants and worked them off carefully.
"Small mercies," she muttered.
The movement would have been agonising had he been awake. Even unconscious he jerked and pulled away from the abuse. The male flinched as she placed her hands on his leg feeling for the bones. He groaned and tried to move away.
The girl stepped back again and chewed on her lip then walked to the far wall of the room where a bookshelf stretched from floor to ceiling. Books of every shape and size lined the shelves, their titles covering topics from herbology to architecture. She ran her fingers along the spines as though she knew their content just from their feel. When her fingers stopped, she smiled to herself and pulled the book off the shelf, flipping the pages as she walked to the table.
Without hesitation she found the exact chapter that described the human skeleton. The book was written by surgeons and explored the structure and make-up of the human body and how it was inferior to sapien bodies. She had the book memorised but wanted to bring up a drawing to be sure. Particularly since the leg she was looking at wasn't exactly human.
"And different back muscles to power the wings. The lungs would have to work differently, and the heart, to pump enough air and blood..."
Her voice trailed off as she thought through the biomechanics of what it would take to keep the male's hulking mass in the air. He moaned again and twisted his head, snapping her out of her musings and bringing her back to the pressing problem: the shattered leg.
She put the book down on the table and studied his leg again. It was clear the bones had shifted and were cutting off proper circulation to his foot. If she didn't set it soon the muscle would die from lack of blood and he would lose his leg.
She didn't want to think of the wings yet. They were what she needed most, but they had to wait. She squared her shoulders and began.
Winter stayed and the snow continued to fall as the girl patched up the broken male in her tiny home. Light and dark came and went several times as she used a pulley and rope to create enough traction to pull the bones into place. But she had only her touch to know if it worked. She wouldn't be able to tell for certain until the swelling went down and allowed her a more precise feel of the bones beneath the muscled flesh.
When light returned again she went out to collect some straight branches and peel them smooth. She tore up a sheet to use as bandages and created a splint to hold the leg in place. Eventually the limb began to pink up, telling her that blood flow had been restored.
Then she moved on to his other injuries, wiping off the dirt and blood that coated his body. She sterilised some cloths in the boiling water and used them to wipe out the deeper wounds.
I'll have to stitch the gash across his chest.
But really what she was doing was procrastinating from dealing with the wings. She had no books on the anatomy of human wings.
Faunid wings, she corrected herself. There's no such thing as human wings. Birds have wings. Insects have wings. Bats have wings.
His wings looked like the wings of a bat. They came out of his back on a long bone then fanned out in fingers, a thin membrane of dark skin between them. A thumb-like claw stuck out the top, excellent for climbing. The girl racked her memory for a book about bat anatomy. None came to mind, but she remembered a drawing of an outstretched bat's wing, the text highlighting its unique ability to take flight.
Her hands paused from cleaning the faunid's body and she focused on his back. Then she gently reached over and pulled the wing out. The thin membrane of skin was in shreds and several 'fingers' were visibly out of place.
"Doesn't matter if they are bat wings. The bones should be straight and the skin must attach in order to heal," she affirmed.
He needs to fly. Had has to. To save us both.