The brothers crept through the woods on silent feet, their keen ears and sharp eyes trained to the movements around them. The cool autumn breeze rustled the dried leaves in the trees while birds called encouragement to fledglings still stretching their wings. The older male, light haired to mask his dark thoughts, stopped suddenly and crouched low.
"What do you see?" the younger brother whispered, his long hair falling into his eyes.
"Can't you smell it?" he answered haughtily. "I'm surprised we didn't pick up that stench miles away."
He peered through the foliage trying to discern what prey they had stumbled upon. He smelled only earth, the rich texture of ripe fruits and decay, and then a light whiff something different, something out of place in the forest.
"It's a human," his brother hissed, drawing an arrow from his quiver and notching his bow.
"Really? I've never seen a human before!" the younger said in awe, inching closer to get a look at the creature moving in the forest in front of him.
"They're nothing special; they look just like us. Only ugly and weak."
"What would you know? You've never seen one either!" He shoved his brother aside to get a better view. They crouched low and moved behind a fallen tree, peering down a short slope to the human below.
"What is it doing?"
"Probably trying to collect some pathetic food. They're incredibly primitive and frail. I heard the blacksmith say that a human will die if you look at it the wrong way."
The younger male laughed silently at his big brother's joke. They continued to watch the human move about, oblivious to the hunters that had made its mark.
"It is a male or female?" the younger brother asked.
"How should I know? They all look the same."
He ignored the comment and continued to watch the human carefully. "No one's going to believe this…"
The blond male just stepped up and raised his bow, taking aim. "Well let's get a better look then."
"What are you doing? Poaching a human is against Common Law."
The older just sneered. "I'm not going to kill it; I'm practicing catch and release," and he let the arrow fly. The arrow found its mark and the human toppled over dropping the basket of food it had been gathering. The brothers leapt over the fallen log and crashed down the slope, running up to the prey to ensure it didn't escape wounded. They stopped a short distance away and watched the human moan and cry on the ground, struggling to get up.
They approached carefully, muscles tense in case it should attack suddenly, but as they got closer it became apparent the human was in no condition to fight.
"It's a young female!" the younger brother said in horror. "You shot a female of breeding age! They're going to rip your back open for this!"
The older male just rolled his eyes and reached down to pull out the arrow. "It's fine. Just needs to heal up," and he yanked the shaft out, causing the human to scream in pain.
The female gasped for air as blood leaked out her mouth and dripped down her chin. She tried to sit up but a coughing fit sent spasms through her body before she went limp and her eyes glazed over.
"You killed it!"
"I didn't think it was going to kill her! How was I supposed to know she was so fragile?"
"It's a human, that's how! If the alpha prime finds out you poached a human the primes will have to make an example of you. They're an endangered species!"
The older brother spat on the ground. "Good riddance. They're so weak and stupid they don't deserve to survive. Why should we care if their species goes extinct? Look how thin this one is, hardly any meat on it. I probably did it a favour by putting it out of its misery."
The long haired male shook his head in horror. "What are we going to do? If anyone finds out we broke a Common Law, we'll never advance. We can't just leave it here for someone to find!"
The older brother shouldered his bow and turned away. "Sure we can. The vultures will find it. Better yet, some anymle will come and quarter it up and take it back to its colony. No one would question that an anymle broke the law. Savages…" He started moving away, not bothering to look back.
"This was wrong," the younger mumbled to himself, but followed his brother out of the clearing.
"Humans are nearly extinct anyway. One less female won't make a difference."
The girl shifted the straps on her pack again, adjusting them so they weren't digging into her shoulders. She made a mental note to look into redesigning the width so they distributed the weight more evenly. Maybe if they attached to the pack further apart they wouldn't pinch her neck? Her pace slowed as she daydreamed possibilities. She blinked to clear her mind when she realised she had stopped walking altogether. A glance at the snow covered forest and another pack adjustment. The rabbit she had just snared swung loosely from the pack, plump from its recent feast on fresh spring greens.
It was always odd to think of a rabbit having just eaten spring greens when she was tromping through the snow. When spring arrived she was hoping it would turn to summer. But as she was collecting the fresh plants herself the snow began to fall, summer and autumn skipped altogether. The snow had fallen through a long Dark but stopped when Light reappeared. So she set her snares and chopped wood while she waited. When the temperature began to fall she worried Light was leaving, so she returned to check the traps. The rabbit was plump but its fur would not be thick and warm.
The girl crouched down to observe some tracks in the snow. Her long red-brown hair fell to one side where it was tied in a leather thong. She held her rough and calloused hands next to the track to measure the length and gait. The mouse had run quickly from the base of the oak tree to the pine. Perhaps it had a stash of food there. Or were they vole tracks? The voles usually travelled under the snow, but likely hadn't had time to dig their tunnels just yet. She carefully noted the length of each of the toes and the tail drag mark between the prints, committing the details to her well-trained memory.
She straightened and looked around, listening to the birds calling in the canopy, recognising their calls down to the species. The Light was fading either from an approaching storm or the arrival of Dark. It was hard to tell with clouds covering the sky, hanging low. 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 aimlessly, her brown eyes drifting to the branches and frozen buds on the trees. Her step hesitated slightly when up ahead she noticed an odd lump on ground, completely out of place from the rest of the forest. Then she halted on the spot and stared hard, not quite believing what she was seeing. Her breath quickened as she approached it carefully, silently placing one foot in front of the other.
A man lay in the snow before her. 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 and one was so swollen she could only see a slit where the lids met. The face was so mangled it occurred to the girl that it might not be a man at all. It could be woman. His massive size and short hair suggested he was a man. But women could be large as well, she thought. Maybe this was just a regular sized woman and the girl herself was abnormally small. The thought had never occurred to her before and she made a note to research average human heights and weights. And vole tracks.
The girl looked down at the rest of the body. A kind of armour covered his arms, legs, and torso but it was ripped and torn, blood seeping out from underneath the plates. A large gash cut across his chest but the blood had clotted and dried already. Looks like he lost a fight. She lost a fight? The girl's eyes wandered down to the leg that was clearly broken, jutting out in an unnatural position. She grimaced and gulped in fresh air as she took in the shattered leg. She felt her last meal rolling around in her stomach and she quickly looked away to the surrounding forest to keep from vomiting.
It was only then that she realised what was most odd about the situation: there were no tracks leading to the body. He/she was only partially covered in snow, so should have left a trail indicated how he arrived here. The girl looked left and right, then back at the body. Then she slowly tipped her head up to the sky. Branches had been snapped and hung up loosely in the canopy.
He had fallen.
He was travelling through the canopy of the forest, like a squirrel? When an unfortunate misstep lead to a disastrous fall. No, he looked like there had been a fight. Or maybe he was attacked by a pursuer in the trees? This all seemed very implausible to the girl.
Then the body groaned and shifted causing her to jump and step back quickly, her breath catching in her throat. Admittedly, she had somewhat assumed it was dead. But then the body rolled over to its belly slightly and revealed a set of wings that had been concealed in the snow.
"Huh," she exclaimed in surprised. "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 up to prevent further damage to his wings.
"Male," she said aloud. Anymles are male and female. Not men and women. Technically, he could still be female, she thought. She hadn't done a thorough investigation just yet. "But he sure is heavy enough to be male," she said aloud to the room.
Maybe he's not an anymle. Maybe he's a sapien. He looked like a human man but had sharper features like those of a sapien. But the wings were that of an anymle. She had never heard of a sapien with wings, but why not? Sapiens were strong, fast, powerful, magical. They could probably make wings if they wanted. But why make wings instead of just making yourself fly? 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 reality and she frowned at her indecision. What if it was an anymle and she just brought it into her home? Would it be able to kill her, she wondered. She was curious to let it try.
She looked at it again and inhaled deeply, then let her breath out in a whoosh. Sapien or anymle, it was injured and unconscious and not going to survive much longer if she didn't do something about it. She stood and nervously wiped her hands on her shirt while she approached the bed. The girl leaned over and carefully unbuckled the armour searching for ties under the thick plates. She slid them off delicately, mentally noting where each piece fit and how it was designed to protect the wearer. The amour was an unusual metal, lightweight but clearly strong. He had cared for it well, oiling the clasps and keeping grime from the building up. She noticed an intricate pattern carved on to some of the plates. This was not the armour of a common soldier.
She pulled back what was left of his shirt revealing a finely toned chest with a deep gash across it. The wound had clotted but was full of dirt and would need to be reopened and washed out. His abdominal muscles moved up and down quickly as he struggled for breath.
She 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 and groaned as she lifted the leg to pull off the pants. The girl placed her hands on the leg feeling for the bones and breaks. He groaned and tried to move away.
The girl stepped back again and bit her lip, then walked to the far wall of the cabin where a bookshelf stretched from floor to ceiling. Books of every shape and size lined the shelves, their covers marked with letters and colours from centuries of writing. She ran her fingers along them slowly, as though she knew their content just from the feel of the spine. She entered into a bit of a trance, not even reading the titles but just waiting for the book to speak to her. When her fingers stopped on a book, she smiled to herself and let out a small sigh of relief. She pulled it off the shelf and began flipping the pages quickly as she walked to the table and turned up the lamp. With no hesitation she found the exact spot in the book that outlined the human skeleton. The book was written by sapien surgeons and explored the structure and make-up of muscles, bones, blood vessels, and internal organs of humans. She had it memorised but wanted to bring up the drawing to be sure. Particularly since the leg she was looking at wasn't exactly human. But aside from the wings, everything else on the male patient looked the same, on the outside at least.
"But different back muscles...to power the wings. And 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. The sound snapped her out of her musings about this wings and brought her back to the pressing problem: the shattered leg.
She put the book down on the table and approached the bed. It was clear the bones had shifted and were cutting off proper circulation to the lower part of the leg. If she didn't set it soon the muscle would die from lack of blood. He would lose his leg if she didn't restore the blood flow. He would lose his life if he lost his limb, because she didn't think she could cut if off cleanly with an axe.
Actually...maybe she could cut it off. She eyed the axe by the door. A well-placed shot below a tourniquet would be less painful than what she needed to do to set the bones. She let the scene play out for a moment then shook the thought from her head.
"Don't be ridiculous," she said to herself. "What if he needs his legs to take flight? He needs to fly again…" She didn't want to think of the wings yet. They had to wait. She turned back to the bed and squared her shoulders.
Winter stayed and the snow continued to fall as the girl patched up the broken male in her tiny cabin. Light and Dark had come and gone several times before her exhaustion began to take over. She had used a pulley and rope to create enough traction to pull the bones together, but she had only her touch to know if it had 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 peeled them smooth. She tore up the remnants of his shirt to use as bandages and created a splint to hold the leg in place in case he should jerk suddenly. She tested the nail bed of his toes, squeezing them to see how quickly the colour returned. Eventually the limb began to pink up, telling her that blood flow had been restored.
She boiled water over the fire and took a cloth to wipe off the dirt and blood that coated his body. She sterilised some cloths in the boiling water and when they were cool used them to wipe out the deeper wounds. She might have to stitch the gash across his chest. She had a book for that. But really what she was doing was procrastinating from dealing with the wings. She had no books on the anatomy of human wings. Anymle wings, she corrected herself. He was an anymle. Or maybe they were sapien wings. A sapien could have wings. Birds have wings. Insects have wings. Bats have wings.
The 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 anymle's body and she focused intently on his back. Then she gently reached over and pulled the wing out from his body. 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 to herself. He needs to fly. Had has to. To save us both.
"Thanks for checking this story out! I'll be posting an update every couple of days so follow along to get updates. If you find a part confusing or unclear, if you have questions or if you really like a section, please leave a comment so I can clean it up!"