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Last week we announced that Rocco’s Wings by Rebecca Merry Murdock is our Kids Corner Book of the Week and the sponsor of our student reviews and of thousands of great bargains in the Kids Book category:
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Now we’re back to offer a free Kids Corner excerpt, and if you aren’t among those who have downloaded this one already, you’re in for a treat!
by Rebecca Merry Murdock
Here’s the set-up:
Early praise for Rocco’s Wings: “This book was a delightful find, coming of age and a hidden message about tolerance undercut an impassioned story and solid writing.” – David Robert Lewis, UK, Netgalley Book Reviewer, January 16, 2015.Rocco is the only villager with wings. His wings are blue, and at night also bioluminescent (glowing). Rocco is captured by urvogels — winged human-like creatures — living on the cliffs of Upper Terrakesh. He witnesses the horrid punishment of urvogels getting their wings cut off – punishment for so-called vanity crimes. The Archurvogel Harpia has decreed that solitary reading and music making are forbidden as contrary to colony or flock principles. Rocco’s new friends, Basalt, Vesta, Magna and Iggy are about to stand trial. If convicted, they will lose their wings. Rocco must decide if he should help them, or escape on his own.
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And here, for your reading pleasure, is our free excerpt:
Cold pierced Rocco’s cheek. Opening his eyes he stared across the plain of a stone floor. A short distance away a slender foot was moving among the folds of a silver robe.
He pulled his head up. He was sitting on a broad outdoor platform. A row of columns as thick and high as a baobab tree formed a line on either side of him, holding up a roof on a very grand mansion.
A great company of urvogels [winged human-like creatures] stared up from the many levels of a terraced garden below. Behind their heads, some distance away, stood the fortress wall. He knew the stones. He had scaled them yesterday, or sometime very recently. Above the wall rose the blue dome of the sky.
His head ached. A large hump had risen on the back of his scalp.
‘Blue wing awakes,’ said a female voice.
Rocco stared up at the most beautiful creature he had ever seen. Her robes swung around her legs in great rustling sweeps. Her wings, half open, flashed black and iridescent silver in the sun. She smelled ever so sweet: of flowers, maybe honeysuckle.
Something tugged his foot. Rocco forced himself to focus.
An Air Marshal was grinning, holding a sky-tether, the other end of which was fastened to Rocco’s feet.
‘Let him up, Air Marshal,’ said the beautiful creature in a voice like tinkling water.
The Air Marshal flicked the sky-tether. Rocco lurched up. His eyes were open but he couldn’t see past the black fog that clogged his head. His mother was dead. The platform beneath his feet seemed to sway. His legs were reeds wavering in the croc-infested waters of the Ebo River.
‘Blue Wing! Blue Wing!’
The beautiful voice was far away. Rocco blinked. The urvogel, clearly the one in charge, emerged from a blur into the creature he’d been looking at moments ago.
‘You – you killed my mother!’ Rocco spat the words.
The woman reeled back in surprise. Her eyes were dark and coldly glowing; her black, upswept hair was held in place with hard, glittery ornaments. Around her neck a collar of wispy filoplumes fluttered in the breeze.
‘I am Harpia,’ she said, looking down at Rocco as if he were a gnat, or an insect she couldn’t quite see. ‘And you, blue wing, you have the look of an urvogel, but you are stout and no doubt thick between the ears.’
A wave of laughter rolled up from the crowd below.
Harpia! Every muscle propelled him forward, to bite her face, to rip her limbs.
Nothing moved. His limbs were frozen in place. His eyes worked though. He could see her. His arm too, he thought lifting his hand to block the sun.
‘Why’d you kill her? Why? She didn’t do anything to you.’ The sound wailed from his lips.
Harpia waved casually, the same careless motion she used to direct the red robe who was shielding her from the sun with a fringed shade on a pole. Whenever she moved another red robe, scurrying behind her, arranged the train on her dress. Other red robes stood on guard by the door of the grand mansion, Harpia’s palace.
‘Turn around now so we can see your wings.’
‘She was my mother!’
‘Let me go!’ Rocco picked up the sky-tether that bound his feet and swung it wildly. In his bird eye vision he could see Harpia. She never stopped smiling. Her skin, so luminous a moment ago – before he knew who she was – now looked as cold and smooth as the underbelly of a snake.
‘I’m not urvogel. I don’t belong here. I belong down there!’ Rocco swung his arms at the wall. The urvogels below were staring, smiling like Harpia, as if he were nothing more than a bit of entertainment. They were just like her, cruel and full of ridicule. It was true. Would they fall on him like so many cockroaches next?
Why were all dressed so nicely? Ugh. It was all a trick. The grown up urvogels were dressed in blue tunics. Others wore red or gold. A few on the fringe of the crowd were dressed in white like the young ones he’d seen yesterday.
As his gaze flitted from one pocket of the crowd to the next he spotted Wheat Hair, standing near the bottom by the steps. In a sea of mostly dark-haired urvogels, his yellow hair stood out.
Girl and Wheat Hair were talking.
Harpia had been holding a long, gnarled staff. She rapped it impatiently on the stone floor. ‘I am the Archurvogel of Krakatoan, Regent of the West, Governor of everything that lies between the Shining Sea and the ends of Lower Terrakesh.’
‘You’re nothing but a murderer!’ Rocco shouted.
Harpia’s gaze was cold. ‘You are the spawn of a rotten egg, the offspring of a warrior who deserted this colony and flock, are you not?’
‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’
‘What’s your father’s name?’
What game was Harpia playing? If she was going to kill him, she could just get on with it.
‘You have wings, but there’s no escaping the muddled condition of that mudrock head. You are a plains creature through and through. You see nothing but what’s in front of your nose.’
‘Go ahead and kill me then, if that’s what you intend.’
With a click of her tongue, Harpia began pacing around Rocco, sizing him up. Surely she wasn’t going to eat him? Were they cannibals?
Harpia came to a standstill. ‘You appear to be fit as a falcon, blue wing. Any diseases we should know of? Any bouts of the pox?’
‘We could put you in quarantine, but the Alchemist here will have a look-see instead.’ As Harpia waved, a cloaked figure with a satchel slung over his shoulder stepped forward.
The Alchemist nodded at Harpia, then sidling up to Rocco he tugged his wing. Rocco clamped his wing tightly against his body.
The Alchemist tried to pry it open again, but Rocco knocked him away.
The Alchemist reached in again.
‘Get off.’ Rocco pushed harder. Harpia nodded and immediately several hands seized his wings from behind. Air Marshals pushed him down, shoving his face into the cold stones. An Air Marshal’s ugly boot with a spike in the toe nearly crushed his arm.
After his hands were tied, he was pulled to his feet. His wings were forced open. Rocco gritted his teeth. He’d just have to stand there and endure his moment of humiliation, whatever they were up to.
Taking out a large magnifying glass, the Alchemist began picking through his feathers.
‘We don’t need you introducing lice or mites or some other nasty infestation into our colony,’ snapped Harpia.
Rocco screwed his eyes shut. So she wasn’t going to kill him, not if she was trying to find out if he was diseased. What was the game? Was she going to keep him as some sort of caged pet?
The Alchemist’s inspection continued. At a sudden twitch, which stung but didn’t really hurt much, Rocco opened his eyes. The Alchemist had pulled a feather, which he passed to Harpia. She smelled the plume and with a small irritating smile ran it along her neck.
‘Go ahead. Pluck me like a chicken! You’re not just a murderer, you’re a thief too!’
More laughter from the crowd. Demon sheep. They were evil, all of them, but stupid too, the way they were looking so adoringly at Harpia.
Wheat Hair wasn’t paying attention. He was talking in earnest to Girl.
‘What a remarkable display of placental attachment,’ said Harpia.
Rocco felt his face grow warm. A moment later, the Alchemist had finished his groping. The Air Marshals released his wings. Rocco clamped them protectively against his sides.
‘Lift your tunic now. Show us!’ said Harpia playfully. ‘Show us the channel of mammalian affection. Let us see your twisted little scar.’
Rocco glared. She couldn’t make him do anything he didn’t want to do.
A glob of spittle formed in his mouth. Before he quite knew what was happening, his mouth was open and he was blowing it out with as much force as he could muster. He watched it fly. With an audible splat it landed perfectly, on the front of Harpia’s gown.
There. Now she knew exactly what he thought of her.
Harpia’s face turned pale.
He was glad he did it, even if she would torture him now. At least he had stood up to her in front of the crowd.
An urvogel in a red robe stepped forward and hastily began to wipe Harpia’s garment. Harpia stood silently while the red robe finished the task.
‘Your mother made an alliance with a traitor.’ Harpia’s voice was steely. She was talking to Rocco but looking out at the crowd. ‘Your mother harboured that traitor. She is guilty of that, and of giving birth to something that nature never intended – a twisted fleshy spine, neither mammal nor urvogel. The sight of you is hateful. You’re a pustule, a blemish on the great domains of Terrakesh.’
Tossing a disdainful look in Rocco’s direction, but never meeting his eyes, she continued her speech.
‘The Air Games are about to begin. Important officials and athletes from the neighbouring colonies will join us. You can be part of the entertainment. After that, we shall see –‘
Before Rocco could say anything, Harpia nodded to the Air Marshals on either side of him. ‘See that he’s clean. Then take him to one of the Roosting Halls. If he misbehaves, cut his wings. If he flies off, kill him.’
Her tone was triumphant. ‘He seems fit,’ she said, tapping her staff lightly on the ground. ‘He needs to stay that way. Let him roam freely within these walls. See if he can manage the temptation of flying off. More sport for us if he does.’
The Air Marshals removed Rocco’s restraints. Moving to the edge of the platform, Harpia raised her arms. The throng cheered. As she raised her arms higher, the cheers grew louder. Harpia’s wings quivered.
The scent of honeysuckle grew strong. Were the Krakatoans drawn to her stench? He wasn’t. She was vile. Odious. She had his mother’s blood on her hands.
Harpia strode over to the palace doors. The guards on top of the fortress wall watched her every step of the way. Occasionally they glanced over at him.
Two urvogels in red opened the palace doors. She swept in. Two hurried in behind her, lifting her robe as the train swept over the stones.
Rocco stared. The red robes were missing their wings. They had lumps where their wings once grew. They looked like grownup versions of the humpback children.
‘Don’t even try to escape.’ The Air Marshal on Rocco’s right blew a waft of foul-smelling breath into his face. ‘That wall you’ve been gaping at? There are guards up there, day and night. Legions of spy birds, too. Every wing that flutters in this kingdom gets reported back to Harpia.’
Rocco hissed. The Air Marshal – Stinky Breath, Rocco decided to call him – shoved him onto the steps leading down from the palace platform to a vast stone yard below. With Stinky Breath in front and a second Air Marshal – Knife-in-the-Back – walking behind, they proceeded downwards.
There was nothing he could do if Knife-in-the-Back decided to stick him. He was defenseless, not even so much as a stone or a rock in his pocket.
The city was obviously well fortified, though against what it was impossible to know. Were there warring tribes of urvogels? He would bide his time, make a plan and carry it through, preferably before Harpia turned him into a show monkey at the urvogel Air Games.
They reached the stone yard and continued across, passing an ornate fountain with a wide trough. Rocco raised his face. The water’s mist was soothing.
‘Think you’re on a holiday, do you?’
The hard toe of Knife-in-the-Back’s boot kicked his leg. Rocco stumbled forward.
Having crossed the breadth of the stone yard Rocco and his guards entered a lush grove of very large trees. Some had full moon heads, others were shaped gracefully like ostrich eggs.
They came into the bright sun. Rocco could see the wall again. He’d have to get over it or under it, or through a door, window or other opening, maybe even a crack. The city was wide at the cusp of the cliffs, at least a thousand metres. It looked even deeper the other way, heading toward the mountain which loomed tall in the distance.
On the right, tidy rows of rich-looking buildings lined the streets. Each was clad in the same polished rock with a brightly coloured door, above which hung a thickly carved gold-coloured lantern. Only the wealthiest merchants in Gogogamesh could afford such lavish adornments. Everything at home had been made by his mother, or given as gifts by the villagers who traded goods when they couldn’t afford the regular kinds of payment.
They passed along several pathways and short-cropped fields of grass. The pace slowed as they entered a breezeway – an open walkway attached to a row of buildings, covered by a roof.
‘Well,’ said Stinky Breath, stopping at a blue door.
‘You’d better get cleaned up, mudrock.’
Rocco quickly ducked inside. He didn’t need their glaring eyes on him. He was immediately engulfed in the sound of lapping water. A large pool filled with rising steam sat in the middle of the room. Urvogels were sitting around the edge of the pool as well as other smaller pools, deeper into the room.
A row of high windows – holes, really – were cut into the top of the wall near the ceiling. In the corner at the far end, urvogels were flapping their wings, shedding water. A red robe, wingless like the ones at the palace, waited patiently at the side, holding drying cloths.
‘Minionatro!’ An urvogel waved from his seat by the wall.
A red robe carrying a tray of silver cups hurried over. Other red robes were folding clothes on a long table at the end opposite the water shedding area. Above the table hung a sign: ‘Minionatros’ Corner’.
Rocco removed his tunic and leggings and quickly slid into the empty end of the large centre pool. It took some effort to sink, but once his wings were wet, he managed it, holding his breath. He was invisible. They couldn’t stare if they couldn’t see him.
Bobbing up for a breath, he rolled on his back, staying submerged except for his face. He was covered in cuts and scrapes. The water stung, but it was exceedingly warm and cosy.
He reached over and pinched the fleshy part of his upper arm. Krakatoan was rich, probably full of dazzling sights. He had to stay focused on the only thing that mattered – getting out.
Closing his eyes to slits he listened to the hollow sounds around him: urvogels talking quietly at the end of the pool; minionatros’ feet shuffling across the marble floor; and wings beating in the water shedding area.
‘It’s not fair,’ said a woeful voice.
Rocco opened his eyes. Three urvogels were staring at him. Reaching up with his foot, Rocco gently pushed himself away. As he came to the deep end, Stinky Breath appeared, scowling and pointing at the door.
His wings were so thoroughly soaked that it was all he could do to lift himself out of the water. He teetered on the side of the pool and waited for the cool air to clear his head. He walked over to the water shedding area and began to flap.
An ancient-looking minionatro handed him a drying cloth and motioned that he should follow. With the cloth tucked around his waist, Rocco followed past Minionatros’ Corner and into a room so small it was little more than a cupboard.
The minionatro began fumbling through a stack of folded clothes on a shelf up against the wall.
‘Does anyone have blue wings?’ He’d been daring himself to ask.
The minionatro pulled a set of white robes from the stack. Rocco repeated the question.
‘Put these on.’ The minionatro had heard him well enough, he just wasn’t going to answer.
The leggings pulled on easily. The tunic had two sleeves for arms, and two holes in the back for wings. It was roughly the design of the tunic his mother had made and which he’d just taken off, except his mother had cut slits from the shoulder to the buttoned waist.
‘It’s too tight,’ said Rocco, choking back a lump as he hastily pulled the tunic off. So his wings were monstrously large as well as blue; he didn’t need reminding. He shoved the rumpled garment into the minionatro’s arms.
‘Let me handle it,’ said the minionatro.
Rocco pinched his arm again. He couldn’t get distracted by the mess he was in. He had to focus his eye on the prize – freedom. Why was the minionatro missing his wings anyway? Had he killed someone? Murderers in Gogogamesh were strung up in the city square. Twice a year, in Spring and at Harvest, everyone gathered to watch the executions. Rocco had never been, but he’d heard there was always a big party afterward.
The minionatro returned with a needle, thread and scissors. Cutting both wing holes open wider, the minionatro began to stitch the freshly cut edge. Having completed one wing sleeve, he had just begun the other when Stinky Breath strode into the room.
‘I’ve got better things to do than hang here all day. Hurry on or you’ll find yourself short more than a pair of wings!’
The minionatro’s hands trembled as he thrust the tunic, thread and dangling needle into Rocco’s arms. Bowing stiffly to the Air Marshal he hastened away.
‘Two minutes. Outside.’ Stinky Breath glared and turned heel.
Sputtering a few tears Rocco pulled on the tunic. His nerves were shot, he couldn’t stop shaking. His hands smoothed over the silky fabric as it fell over his thighs. Finding his towel again, he wiped his eyes. There was nothing to do but get on with it.
Once outside, Stinky Breath and Knife-in-the-Back turned and gaped. Not long, just long enough to wink at each other and swing their heads toward the path, directing him to follow. They set off in the direction they had come. Rocco fell into step at the back.
Now that both of them were walking out in front, he could have a better look around. He would examine everything that came within his sightline: every building and door, every urvogel, everything that was said. The Krakatoans might be sizing him up, but he would do the same.
After a short period of walking, they arrived at a two-storey vine-covered building. ‘Roosting Hall’ said the sign above the door. Inside, they ascended a wide set of stairs and crossed the threshold of a broad, high room.
‘Number eleven,’ said Stinky Breath, pushing Rocco in. Having carried out Harpia’s orders, he and Knife-in-the-Back paid him no more interest. At least they had delivered him in one piece to Roosting Hall. Their heels clicked away.
Rows of beds, with neatly tucked-in white sheets, stood across the floor of the room. A small plaque with a number was fastened to each headboard. A three-metre pole with hooks was attached to the foot of every bed. Rocco found number eleven, which was the last in a row and pushed up against the wall. He slumped down on the side of the bed, abnormally long since urvogels, especially the adults, were tall.
The minionatro’s needle pricked his thigh. He’d put the tunic on without cutting off the thread. He pulled the needle out and wove it securely into the hem of his tunic. He lay down, and promptly fell asleep.
When he opened his eyes again, the room was full of white robes getting ready for bed. Their wings glowed white in the room’s fading light. Some were talking on the side of their beds; others were hanging their clothes on the poles at the ends of the beds. They all stared. A few pointed and whispered.
Rocco sat up on the side of the bed, pulling his sheet over his wings.
Wheat Hair came in. He was talking sombrely to Girl. They sat down on a bed occupied by a flame-haired urvogel. Rocco stared. He’d never seen such hair.
What would Wheat Hair and Girl say if they knew he’d been spying on them yesterday? They probably wouldn’t like it one bit. They’d likely say something rude.
Were all urvogels as sharp-tongued as Harpia or did they have to learn it? The minionatro hadn’t said anything insulting, but he was a servant. He’d likely been trained to be subservient. Stinky Breath, on the other hand, seemed naturally cross and ill-tempered. They were probably all like that, outside their own circle of friends.
Wheat Hair raised his head. A jolt of something, maybe surprise, surfaced in his face, but then his eyes darkened again. His brow furrowed as he resumed his conversation with Girl and Flame Hair. There wasn’t a glimmer of the playfulness Rocco had seen yesterday.
It was hard to imagine what they were worried about. Everything in Krakatoan was many times grander than Rocco’s village, or even the Sultan’s home in Gogogamesh. Their clothes and bed sheets were made of the softest fabric. They had loads of water, thought Rocco, remembering the fountain in the middle of the stone yard.
Flame Hair began crying softly. Rocco couldn’t see his face, but his shoulders were shaking. The other two were trying to comfort him. Girl had her hand on his back. Wheat Hair spoke soothingly.
The other white robes kept gaping over. Drawing the sheet up tighter, Rocco clasped it to his throat. Who cared if they weren’t going to say hello, or tell him their names. They were a completely different species, with habits quite different from the villagers, or the citizens of Gogogamesh. They were more like insects besotted with their terrible queen.
Presently, the chatter faded as the white robes climbed under their sheets. Some quivered, some had their wings sticking out at odd angles. The glow from their wings began to flicker.
Wheat Hair, Girl and Flame Hair kept talking. Rocco lay down again. Moments later a hum began to fill the room. He peeked over from the side of his pillow. It was impossible to locate the origin of the noise so he sat up. The noise wasn’t coming from any one bed, but from all of them.
The bed next to him, number ten, had been empty before. A small urvogel was now lying in it, his back turned, but he was weeping. His narrow shoulders twitched. The white robe in bed nine sniffled and sobbed. Same with beds eight and seven. Every bed held a shape with flickering wings.
The wailing grew louder, rising and falling in waves. The sound made Rocco weak. He buried his head under his pillow and lay still, his knees pulled up to his chest, forcing himself not to think.
He had been lying in that position for some time when he felt a hand on his shoulder. Wheat Hair was standing over him. ‘I thought you might be hungry,’ he said, holding out a shanga fruit.
Was it a real offering, or some kind of trick? Sitting up, Rocco eyed the fruit sceptically.
‘I’m Basalt, the senior fledgling on this floor.’
The crying around Rocco had subsided. Rocco gazed up at Wheat Hair – Basalt. He’d actually said his name.
‘We’re a flock,’ said Basalt quietly. ‘When the feeling is great, be it fear, sorrow or joy, we all feel the same thing. It’s – it’s nothing to be afraid of.’
‘I’m not afraid,’ said Rocco, his eyes darting from Basalt’s face to the fruit in his hand. He couldn’t really remember the last time he’d eaten anything. His stomach had been rumbling all day.
Basalt’s eyes were full of worry as he glanced over at Flame Hair. Laying the fruit on the side of the bed, he nodded at Rocco, then walked away.
Overcome with hunger, Rocco snatched the fruit up. He sniffed, and deciding that it smelled like a shanga, took a small bite. He waited for a full minute. Nothing bad seemed to happen so he greedily ate the rest.
Still sucking the pit, he surveyed the room. He had been so tired before that he had barricaded all the awful things that had happened behind a trapdoor in the back of his head. But the sounds of the room, soft and coaxing, made him relax. Slowly he began to see his mother on the floor of the kitchen and Jafari outside, pleading with him to go.
Tears welled up in his eyes and washed hotly down his face. Jafari was gone. Good, loyal Jafari, and his beautiful, kind mother. They were gone, dead, forever lost to him. He hadn’t deserved them, anyway. He was careless and stupid.
His mother had cared for him all his life. And what had he done? He had ignored her warning. He’d flown up the escarpment. Whether the Air Marshals had seen him there, or out on the plains in the middle of the night, they had followed him. He had brought evil into his village.
Rocco wept. His entire body was swept away in a tide of sorrow and grief.
At length he stopped crying and fell into a dream. His mother was screaming. He was trying to help her but he couldn’t move because he couldn’t lift his wings. He was in the pool again, holding a wet pillow that kept dragging him down. Someone close to him was crying, too. At times, the sound was soothing. At other times the weeping seemed to mock his sorrow.
The room was shockingly bright when he opened his eyes again. It was morning. Most of the white robes were gone. The small urvogel in the next bed was staring over at him with intense brown eyes.
Rocco stared back.
Rolling off the bed, the small urvogel, about six or seven years old, jumped to the floor. He ran over to Middle Boy who was hanging his bed sheet on the pole at the foot of his bed.
Rocco hadn’t recognized the face, but he instantly knew Small One’s voice.
‘Come. I’ll introduce you.’ Basalt appeared at the foot of Rocco’s bed. Rocco followed him over.
‘This is Magma,’ said Basalt, nodding at Middle Boy. A large red stain covered most of Magma’s throat. Magma’s eyes glanced over Rocco’s wings.
‘And this is Ignimbrite, Iggy for short.’
‘Why are his wings blue?’ Small One – Iggy – pointed.
Before anyone had time to speak Girl walked in. A white feather was sticking out of her dishevelled hair. ‘Where’s Py?’ she asked, eyes flitting around the room.
‘He’s in the water closet, throwing up.’ Magma flashed Girl a grave look. ‘He’s says he’s not going.’
‘The Air Marshals will fetch him if he doesn’t come on his own,’ said Basalt.
‘That’s Vesta,’ said Basalt, nodding after Girl who had disappeared back into the hall.
These were the same four urvogels he’d seen yesterday. Basalt was Wheat Hair; Vesta was Girl; Magma was Middle Boy; and Iggy was Small One. They weren’t saying anything vicious, not so far. Perhaps they’d been ordered to keep an eye on him.
Vesta appeared with Flame Hair. His eyes were swollen as if he’d been crying the entire night.
‘We must go,’ said Basalt, turning to Rocco. ‘Pyroxene is on trial. Everyone is expected to attend.’
‘Where exactly?’ asked Rocco.
‘The Courthouse. Avian Plaza.’
The way Basalt said it – it wasn’t a choice. Maybe, afterwards, Basalt would show him around; he needed a general layout of the city. He could look around himself but that was going to raise all kinds of questions from those pesky Air Marshals.
Plates of fruit and a tray with pastries sat on a table out in the hall. The others didn’t even glance at the food. On his way past Rocco grabbed a handful of figs. Cramming two in his mouth, he dropped the rest in his pocket.
He’d have to start a cache of supplies – not under his bed, since that could easily be discovered, but in another spot, somewhere close by. Maybe in one of the other rooms farther down the hall? They didn’t appear to be sleeping chambers.
Once outside, the small troupe took off, flying toward the palace. Basalt, Vesta, Magma and Iggy surrounded Py. Rocco trailed at the back. From what he could see, the part of the city nearest the cliffs was built up with houses and larger public buildings surrounding the stone yard and the palace. The other half of the city – the side backed into the mountain – was green, full of trees and a gently rolling field of short-cropped grass.
On his left and right troupes of urvogels were flying past. Whenever a blue robe came abreast, he pulled his wing forward. Let them gawk all they liked, they didn’t need to see his face. Everyone appeared to be flying, as they were, toward Avian Plaza, except for the Air Marshals who were doing their rounds on top of the wall.
Momentarily the sky cleared. As Rocco turned his head, examining the cityscape, a flicker appeared over his shoulder. It wasn’t a bird, or a sunspot. He flew on, only to have the flicker reappear. He couldn’t see it straight on, only in his bird eye vision. Dark and cloying, it was real, whatever it was, as real as the wind blowing against his face.
He shook his shoulders and carried on. His troupe had come to Avian Plaza. Flying low, they passed over the stone yard and touched down on the steps of a building signed ‘Supreme Court of Terrakesh’. Two gold robes on the top step stopped talking, their mouths opened as they stared at Rocco. He hurried up, following Vesta into the throng.
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