Daecon was overjoyed at hearing a familiar name, even if it was from a stranger. “Where is Owen?”
“He is in bear form on the ground, following those men to make sure they don’t come back. Now, quickly, let’s get out of this tree. Follow me.”
The owl spread its black wings and was about to take flight.
“Wait!”, Daecon said. “I don’t know how to fly yet!”
The owl paused. “Oh yes, Owen told me that, I should have known. Well, you don’t really need to fly to get down, you only need to glide. Spread your wings and jump, they’ll stop you from hitting the ground too hard. If you give them a few flaps just at the end you should be able to land gently.”
Daecon looked at the owl doubtfully.
“Look", the owl said. "You were just about ready to jump out of this tree a minute ago. Why hesitate now?”
“I don’t know. I just – it was an emergency; it was the only thing I could think of. I really need to stop those men.”
“Well, if it makes you feel any better, it’s still somewhat an emergency. Wait, you can control those wings now? Owen had told me that you were just starting to gain feeling in them when he left.”
“Yes”, Daecon said proudly as he gave the wings a few flaps. "I can do anything with them now. I can even make them disappear."
“Excellent. You’re not ready for a real flight, of course, but you have already glided before. You should be able to do this easily. Just watch what I do.”
With that the owl spread its wings and hopped off the branch. Its wings caught the air like a kite and it glided down to the plateau below the cave opening. Just before it touched down it flapped the outer edges of its wings a few times and landed gently. It then turned around and looked up at Daecon.
“See? There's nothing to it! You think you can do that?”
“I.. um... I guess so. I don’t...”
“Don’t be afraid, son. Even if you screw it up your wings will act like a parachute and slow you down. You’re not going to hurt yourself. Now come on down, quickly! We have things to discuss.”
Daecon looked at the ground, glanced doubtfully at his wings, spread them out wide, gave his tail feathers a little flap (he had forgotten about these until just now), and jumped. As soon as he left the branch he felt his wings fill with air and he began falling. Slowly, to be sure, but still much faster than he had anticipated. The ground was now getting closer, so he attempted to flap the tips of his wings as Leander had done.
Unfortunately, he flapped them a little too hard and arrested the fall completely, missing the ground and instead soaring out past the plateau and into the open air. As soon as Daecon realized what was happening he started pumping his wings hard, using every muscle in his back, chest, and wings, and started gaining altitude quickly.
“What... What are you doing?” the owl shouted, and in an
instant it was flying beside him, pumping its wings furiously to keep up. “You
must stop this and land at once!”
Daecon was terrified as he kept pumping the wings. “I don’t
know! I don’t know! I just sort of started flapping like you did, but I must
have flapped too hard and missed the ground! As soon as I was past the point of
landing I started flapping even harder to avoid crashing! Now I don’t know what
“Ok, don’t panic. The first thing you want to do is stop flapping your wings. Hold them straight out and glide, like this”. The owl stopped flapping and was now soaring beside Daecon.
Daecon obeyed, and his brief panic was abetted when he felt himself level out and was now soaring in the night sky.
“Ok, now, turn around and glide back to the cave.”
“How do I turn?”
“Use those tail feathers and your wings. If you want to turn right tilt the top of your right wing into the wind a bit to create drag on that side. Tilt the left wing so that the bottom is facing the wind. Use your tail feathers to fine tune your flight path. You’ll feel your body react to whatever movements you make. If you make the right ones you’ll go where you want. If you don’t make the right ones try again.”
Daecon carefully twisted his wings as the owl had commanded, and sure enough he felt himself bank and begin a steep curve to the right.
“That’s it, yes! Very good. You’re turning a little sharper than you need to, but that’s good because you’re also scrubbing speed. Now, remember, use your tail feathers to fine tune your flight. Ok, now, you see the cave below?”
Daecon scanned the woods below and ahead and saw the plateau with a large dark spot that would be the cave entrance. “Yes, I think I see it. It looks far away, though!”
“It is far away. In that brief amount of time we’ve probably flown at least 3 kilometers away from it. Ok, now, keep your eyes on the cave. You should not have to pump your wings at all, we are plenty high enough and there's a nice updraft. Just glide on the wind. Stay focused on that cave and adjust your flight as necessary.”
Daecon did as he was told and was soaring effortlessly. He was beginning to enjoy this a lot – it was just like the dreams he had as a kid. Only slight movements were needed to keep up his flight path. He was covering distance quickly, though, and the cave opening was getting close.
“Ok”, Leander the owl said. “You’re coming in much too fast to land. Turn the bottoms of both wings toward the wind to slow yourself down. The key to a smooth landing is to arrive at your landing spot right at stall speed, only a few inches off the ground. That way you can just fold your wings and land gently and gracefully.”
Daecon turned his wings as commanded and felt them fill with air, almost like parachutes. He was slowing down now, and quickly.
“Ok, straighten them out a bit, you don’t want to stall too soon. That’s it. Now use your tail feathers to adjust your pitch. You’ll want to be almost standing upright as you land.”
“Stall? Pitch? What are you talking about?”
“Haven’t you ever been in an airplane? Owen told me that you
grew up with humans, so I’m putting this in human terms."
"Yes, I've been in an airplane", Daecon replied, "but I was only a passenger. I've never flown one!"
"Oh. Well, stall is the minimum speed you can glide while your wings still provide lift. If you go below that speed you will drop out of the sky unless you start flapping. An airplane has to get above stall speed to lift off, and it has to stay above stall speed or it will drop out of the sky. We are lucky, if we stall we can flap vigorously and gain speed and altitude. It’s not pretty or graceful, but it can sometimes be life saving. Airplanes can’t flap their wings, so they simply drop and crash unless they pitch their noses down so they can speed up in a hurry.”
“Lucky us”, Daecon shouted back. “So what about pitch?”
“That is the angle of your body as you fly through the air. Pitching downward, meaning having your head down, tends to make you fly downward and you pick up speed while losing altitude. Pitching upward will use some of your forward momentum to try to make you climb. If you have enough momentum and pitch up hard enough you will climb, but only until your momentum slows, at which point you will either have to start flapping or you'll stall. If you pitch correctly, though, you will not climb, you'll simply turn your underside more to the wind, which will create drag and slow you down. That’s why you pitch upward, almost vertical, when you’re landing. You want to be standing because you want to land on your feet, and you don’t want to be moving too fast or you'll stumble and maybe fall.”
Daecon processed this info as the cave, and the plateau below it, drew nearer.
“Ok, we’re getting closer now. Slow down a bit more, that’s it. Now, just as you are almost directly over where you want to land turn your wings almost vertical, with the bottoms pointed into the wind. Use your tail feathers to orient your body so that you’re almost upright and align yourself with where you want to land. Flap your wings a little – gently this time! – to slow yourself almost to a stop just as you get to where you want to come down. If you do this right you will come to a complete stop only inches above the ground, at which point you simply fold your wings up and drop. Ready? Ok, wait for my command... now, DO IT!”
Daecon tried to remember all of this as he was coming in and he executed the manoeuvre almost perfectly. He touched down perhaps a little faster than optimal and stumbled a little bit, but for a first landing it was as good as could be expected! Well, second landing if you counted the dunk into the lake, but that could hardly be considered controlled. The important thing was that he was on the ground. Not only that, but as soon as he had touched down he folded his wings without even thinking about it, and discovered that they had hidden themselves. He looked over just as the big owl touched down in a perfect landing.
“Excellent! Well done!”, the owl yelled as there was a flash of light.
The owl had disappeared and in its place was a large, bald black man, dressed in a black business suit. Just like the owl his body was stocky – he was not particularly short, but the almost square shape of his body gave the illusion that he was. Daecon thought that he looked like somebody that should be providing security to the president or something. The only thing that looked odd about him was that his eyes were the same bright green colour that the owl’s were.
Daecon was prouder and more excited than he had ever been in his life. Without even thinking he ran over to Leander and wrapped his arms around him in a hug.
“Thank you! Thank you! That was incredible! I can’t believe I did it! I really did it! I actually flew!”
Leander allowed the hug to continue for a few seconds, then pulled away. He looked at Daecon with a broad smile. “Yes, you did very well. With a little bit of practice you will be an ace, I’m sure. For now, though, you should probably concentrate more on completing your shifts. I could hardly believe it when Owen told me that you had only shifted part way, and now not only have I seen that, but I’ve seen you fly in half human form. That is quite remarkable.. At least you’ve got cloaking yourself figured out.”
“What? I didn’t...”
“Yes, you did. You’ve been cloaked since I arrived and saw you in that tree. You’re still cloaked now, in fact, which is also quite remarkable as most of us can’t cloak while in human form. That’s why those humans couldn’t see you even though they shined their lights directly on you.”
“But I’m not trying to cloak. I don’t know how I’m doing it.”
“Yes, yes, I realize that now. It’s likely instinct. You needed to hide, so you hid.”
“Yeah, I guess so. That’s how my wings appeared too, according to Owen. I needed to fly, so I flew.”
“From what Owen told me that could hardly be called ‘flying’, but yes, that is what happened.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know, I suck. Owen has already made it perfectly clear how retarded I am.”
“What? No! Owen would never have called you retarded. You have a lot of learning to do, sure, but considering you’ve only just discovered what you are today I think you’re doing rather well, and Owen does too. He was just surprised that somebody your age could have no idea about what or who you are. Now, on to more pressing issues. When you were about to jump out of that tree you said you had to stop those men because they had your phone. Why was that phone so important?”
“For two reasons”, Daecon explained. “First, because it shows that I was here. Owen was right, they are looking for me, and they think I killed that Adam guy. They were arguing about whether or not I had survived, and one of them even almost had the other convinced that I hadn’t, until they found that stupid phone in the cave.”
“I see”, said Leander. “That is a problem. What is the other reason?”
Daecon was looking at his own feet. “I... um.. I kinda took a selfie with it.”
“In the cave.”
“So? They’ll already know you’ve been in there.”
Daecon looked up at Leander. He felt like an idiot. “With my wings.”
“What? Why on Earth would you do that?!?”
“I wanted to see what they looked like! I was curious and couldn’t see them well, so I took a picture.”
“Oh, for the love of... Ok, Ok, I can’t fault you for being curious, I suppose, and I know people your age do like your selfies. You couldn’t have expected them to get hold of your phone. Please, though, tell me that you didn’t post the picture on social media.”
“What? Of course not! I’m not that stupid! Besides, I couldn’t have even if I had wanted to. No cell signal here, remember?”
“Ok, good. At least the damage is minimal. And they didn’t see the photo yet?”
“No, my phone was locked.”
“Good. That buys us some time. I’ve got to catch up with Owen. You stay here in the cave. If anyone comes, cloak yourself. Or remain cloaked, since you are already. No more flying though, not tonight.”
“Ok, I’ll stay in the cave. What are you and Owen going to do to those guys?”
“I’ve got a plan. Owen and I will take care of it. Don’t worry, we won’t hurt those men, but we have to make them think that you weren’t in this cave – or at least that most of you wasn’t.”
“What? Most of me? What do you mean?”
“I don’t have time to explain. I have to go.”
With that there was a flash, and Leander’s human form was replaced by that of a large black jaguar with the same green eyes that Leander the human and Leander the owl had. Daecon really must have been getting used to this as he didn’t even jump. The large cat turned to leave then stopped.
“Wait. Give me your shirt”, it said. “And a sneaker. Quickly.”
“What? How am I supposed to go without sneakers?”
“You won’t need them tonight. We’ve brought clothes for you, including hiking shoes, so don’t worry. Quickly now. Shirt and a sneaker. The sock too, come to think of it.”
Daecon removed his shirt and a sneaker and placed them into the panther’s open mouth.
“Fanksh”, the panther said with its mouth full of clothes. “Now, remember. Shtay here”.
With that it took off down the slope like a silent black rocket.