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I spread my wings.
Joss pauses in his shuffling to and fro in front of his hut to watch me catching sun on the dustpath. He blinks, squinting into the sun, and some of the orange light seems to drip off the end of my pink wing and into the stone and beige colors of his shell and the fuzz around his cheek.
At last, I'm nearly done with that confounded moulting that's been going on for weeks. I just hope that when the potion next wears off I won't start over again or anything like that. That'd be all I need. Regrowing feathers on my head itched like crazy, and isn't something I'd care to repeat out of season. I've spent a lot of time splashing at the Oasis, and Jossu'wa has offered to roll the tips of my feathers that I can't reach, to help remove the casings, but I haven't been in a patient enough mood to be touched.
Now that the shower of down feathers and periodic shedding of a salmon-and-yellow primary is completed, my frustration at standing still or just chatting with Joss or Mina has grown. I had hoped it was part of the itchiness of the moult, but apparently not. I want to fly, now that everything's back in order, but instead jounce on my long legs, on the ground, lacking any direction and desperately needing direction before taking off. It never used to bother me before, but now I shake out my breast and neck feathers repeatedly and point my beak at the sky, and do not fly. I need somewhere to go, and I want things to do, but I don't know what they are. Fuck it. And I thought I left these focus and drive problems back at college.
"You are looking very Divine today, Bennu," Jossu'wa mentions. He has a hopeful voice, directioned by the way he faces his armadillo muzzle. At least it can be caught in amongst the constantly moving, dry air of the desert, so I guess that's what counts in a place like this. He sounds more human than I do, and, come to think of it, looks more human even with the claws and tail and pointed, quivery muzzle and armored cap and back.
"Um... yeah... thanks, I guess." I'm not sure when to correct him anymore. If I made certain to tell him I'm not a god every time he implied it, I'd spend all my breath that way. I give my wings a little shake, tilting them to cup the sun in the pits. Joss doesn't move.
"Joss, what are you doing?" I thought he had morning stuff to do.
He blinks, confusedly. All blinks from Joss appear confused. It amazes me he can be considered any kind of a leader or a priest. There's no sharpness to him at all. It's all roundness like his shoulders and his small voice. "I am gazing upon you, Justin-Bennu."
"Well, guh, yeah but isn't there anything else you-- oh, of course not. Forget I asked. Forget it, go about your gazing or whatever."
"Yes, Justin-Bennu." He 'gazes upon' me a moment longer before resuming his mysterious duties. There's just no point in asking what goes on in his mind. The rest of us hide things; am I to blame for wondering what he's really doing when he seems to be standing still? But he says what he thinks and does what he's doing. That's supposed to be good, but it can sure be unsettling for anyone used to good old fashioned duplicity, and that's most of us. Maybe that is why he's a holy man. He can believe this stuff. He eats it up.
"You're fucking innocent, you know that, Joss?" I toss my head and let my jaw stay loose so my beak clacks slightly. "Sad sometimes, I swear..."
"I make you sad?" Immediately he stops touching and polishing whatever he was touching and polishing and faces towards me. His nose is raised like a waiting dog's. "Do I make you sad, Justin-Bennu?"
"Oh for... Don't sound so anxious! I meant it was sad, you know, that you're so... oh for... never mind."
"'Yes, Justin-Bennu'," I mimic, thinly, maybe a little sharply. Damn the sky, damn my new feathers, I need something.
Maybe Joss does have a richer voice than I give him credit for. Maybe I'm being shallow because of this cursed mood I'm in that I just can't shake. Fuck it all. I call, once, to no one in particular; there are no birds of any kind to hear, let alone long-legged wading birds of my kind.
Maybe it's my own voice echoing back that I hear, when things are thin and harsh in my head, or when it's all far away and quiet like he seems to be sometimes. Maybe I'm just not... I don't know. I thought all I needed to do to listen better was to get out of the city. I mean, here I _am_, in a different body no less, and so little seems to have changed when we've come out of the drama and mess with the Ssayre and the villagers. So maybe I'm just me and it's time to get my ass moving again. There's nothing else for me to do, really. And I'm probably not doing justice to the priest who represents me. What a joke _that_ is. Priest indeed. Maybe he just doesn't come across as that big a deal to me because I alone know how pitiful is the thing he worships.
"I gotta do something, Jossu'wa. I'm going out of my head. I think the longer the potion stays in effect the weirder I get, or something. Or boreder. I don't know. That's it, though, I think I'm bored. I must be bored."
Joss approaches me with the heat fast being absorbed into the air around him. Pretty soon I'll have to stop sunning and get somewhere shaded, maybe go see Mina. I don't think I can stand roosting inside a hut today, especially not if anyone stops by to talk religion. What a farce. Joss lays a wide, long-clawed, padded hand on my wing-shoulder. I shrug it off, automatically. He places his hands one over the other and regards me solemnly, an expression he has perfected beyond even the range of earnest schoolchildren. He doesn't seem to have anything to say.
I make a series of irritated sounds in my throat: cackles and croaks and a range of half-honks that don't resonate clearly with my beak shut. "Fuck it," I say finally, "Don't be bothered by all this, Joss. Just forget I say anything. I'm going on up to see Mina or something. I'm sorry I'm around here at all. You obviously don't have anything to say. There's no reason you'd know what'd be up with me, anyway. Maybe it's the heat. I'm a Midwesterner."
Again, I have left him with nothing to say, and now I do press my wings down into the dusty air over the path and push myself almost straight up. I take off over the huts, leveling out to be able to keep height as soon as I'm ten feet up. From that height I can gradually increase the lift until I make my way almost straight for the upper part of the Spire. Mina spends most of her time in there. It's the only place large enough for her to get any shade.
The flight should take something out of me, leave me pleasantly exercised, but instead of refreshed and a little warmed-up I feel almost exhausted yet no more satisfied than when I woke up. I grab distractedly at an edge of black rock, making a clumsy landing even considering my relatively short lifetime as this bird, and yawn out of repressed nervousness that doesn't seem to find a way to work itself out.
"I hear you, Justin," comes Mina's soft-echoing voice from within the curving rough-carved halls of the Spire.
At least she talks like I'm a regular person. I just can't seem to train Joss to stop using the honorifics all the time. He calls me Justin, sometimes with a big grin and a hand patting my neck warmly, but he has to be off his guard to do that. I just can't seem to get him out of the respect thing.
Mina turns to look at me as I follow her voice into a room with an egg-shaped black window showing white light and sky beyond. She must be watching the village waking up. "Hungry, Mina?" I ask, taking hopping strides up to her long, slim but extremely large maroon form. "We could grab some breakfast or something."
She sighs, like a romantic heroine in a tower or something. I guess she is one. I bob my head and lift my crest, spreading my wings a bit in what for me is an overblown greeting. I seem to do a lot of this aggressive greeting shit lately. She cocks her head to watch me dance up to her, then tilts her gaze back to the rock window. "I'm not hungry. Sometimes I wish I were, now. It gave me something to think about."
"Huh. I can see that, I guess." I slip my thin neck in between her shoulder and the wall, and look out and down at the dust and huts. It gives me a dizzy feeling, as though I must be about to fall if I'm not using my wings. "We gotta get you another hobby. And if you find one, let me know about it. I'm bored, too." I try to heave a sigh, but it whistles out without much drama to it. So I'm not a dragon. I'm just a tall wispy substanceless thing.
The Wyvere turns her head until her nostrils are almost over the nape of my neck. "Are you bored, Justin? That surprises me." Mina's voice is mild and contained, ladylike, not at all surprised. But she's not one to dart around shouting like I seem to be.
"Why should that surprise you?"
She shrugs a wing, scraping its grasping claw lightly back towards her chest across the stone floor. "I have nowhere to go. You have everywhere. Why would you stay here if you were bored? I thought you were staying for something." She fixes her gentle-predatory eyes on me. "Or someone."
"Someone." I shake out my wings, thinking. "The villagers, I guess. And me. I mean, it's here or there. I can't have both."
"But you chose this place. You have chosen it since our time together began, and before. You could leave now. If you're bored, why not go?"
"But go where? Speaking of choices, you _could_ go and find other Wyvere, couldn't you?"
"And you could find other of the Bennu. I say I have nowhere to go because I have no people. I am not one of them, anymore than you are of the Bennu. I do not have anyone back in Germany to return to, and I am not one of a people here. I thought... that you were staying for Joss. I thought you stayed because of your connection with those you are unlike, rather than to escape anything in your old place."
"Joss? Oh, he used to probably like having me around, but his post here is pretty much assured, I'd say. He did his Speaking of the Bennu thing and that's about all there is to it. Now he just keeps looking at me all the time and trying to be solicitous. As though I'm still some sort of a god. I'm about to go mad with him hanging over me like that. I'm bored out of my skull."
"Are you bored? It just doesn't seem like you. Forgive if I am wrong, but you seem like the lazy type, Justin Nygaard."
I laugh, in the harsh bell-ring tone of my wading bird's voice. "What's wrong with me, then? The potion driving me a little batty? I can barely fly without getting lost. I hunt frogs just to be doing something and eat when I'm not hungry. I am a lazy person. Wish I could be lazy again. I think the potions make me drunk over time, or something."
"Well," Mina considers quietly, "I've been here a good many years longer than you have. Maybe you're just eager to do something after your moult. Most birds and young men your age might feel bored wherever they are and whatever they're doing. That's why it surprises me, a bit, that you haven't been dating or romantically involved. I would be myself, except that I just haven't worked up the courage to go out and find someone. That doesn't seem to be a problem for you. At least, it wouldn't seem so to look at you."
"Courage?" I squawk a little. "That has nothing to do with it. There's no one here to be had. I mean... you're very pretty and all, Mina. I don't mean that. I just think you're way too intellectual for me. Way too advanced. I'm not good enough to be your type."
"Mm. I wouldn't say one has to be 'good enough' for another, but I would never ask you to be intimate with me. Not for the reasons you state, however. So, you haven't argued that you're not... how shall I say... sexually hopeful. Maybe you just need to keep that in mind. Maybe you're ignoring yourself."
"Maybe." I'm not sure anymore what she's talking about. I stand idly while my feathers all sort of lift from their places on my body, emphasizing their colors. "I guess I shouldn't be amazed that you'd bring this up. You must read all kinds of romances."
"I have little else to do." There is a tiny smile in her voice.
"Right... We've been over that. Well, board game for the bored, or something?"
"All right." Mina sighs again as she slides away from the window, but she does that often and I don't really care anymore what it means. She always said it wasn't about 'just putting up with' me. I ought to be in the habit by now of taking her at her word. And it doesn't pay to ask her anything complicated.
The Wyvere and myself play three and a half board games with sets made up for us by the village craftsmen; a little checkers, some more checkers, a little chess. Our claws curve the same over the board although hers are much larger, and black to my clear with bloodflow showing. I lose one game, almost win another and am partway through the game of chess when I've had enough for the day. It's hot even in the Spire, and I decide to go down and see Joss in his Temple, not because I like the Temple but because I still don't know what to do with myself. It's as cool there as here and I feel like I'm somehow frustrating to Mina. Nobody ever tells me anything, so it's damned hard for me to tell what I'm supposed to do with myself.
I bow and angle my wings for her, coming up with something that looks gentlemanly, and she nods her farewell with a slight smile, as though I've been hosted in her palace or something. I trot past chalk and glass and ancient-shimmering decorations to the same place that I entered by, and launch myself from the rock that nearly burns my feet with the sun's heat it's absorbed. My legs dangle as I circle down to the cave entrance that leads to the Temple.
Jossu'wa is not there, but I walk by myself in the stuffy cooled air of the semi-deep area with the stone table Joss so eloquently calls his "Place Where Weird Things Show Up". I beak around in the items thereon, noting whether anything interesting has appeared in recent hours. Doesn't seem to be anything recently arrived from 'my' Earth.
In the items catalogued there are still those which Joss gave me to take on my legendary 'battle' with the 'Ssayre', who is of course now my checkers-playing and somewhat annoyingly reticent companion. I don't know why the impressive people always have to look at me as though I ought to know as much about myself as they do. The camera still has a few photos left to go in its Polaroid film, and still the California white wine is untouched. Its presence does beg the question of what would happen should any of the Kiri-ahn people partake of it, but no one has been interested in attempting something that risky. Perhaps they haven't even thought about it. Their thoughts don't seem to stray very far, Joss's included.
"Justin," comes a happy tone from over my right shoulder. "What do you need in your Temple?"
"Nothing, Joss," I tell him, grimacing although the expression doesn't show on my face. "Just hanging around."
"Yes. Hang-ing around. Well. I am going to organize offerings. Your staying will bless the proceedings, if your will is to do so, Bennu."
That's it. I've had it. All this frustration and my feathers all dressed up with no place to go and no desire I can find to mark my path. Why is it everyone is focused but me? I know why-- they're all focused on utter crap. I stare at Jossu'wa, Speaker of Justin Nygaard from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and a sound snaps off halfway up my long throat before "Don't you ever _listen_ to me?!" makes it out the end of my beak.
Joss startles up from what he is doing and tremulously fixes his bright, small eyes on my flashing light ones. "What have I--"
"No! 'What have I not listened to, Justin-_Bennu_.' Fuck you. I'll tell you again, _this is not me_. I helped you put one over on your people, and I thought you were smarter than that. But you're not, are you. You just keep on in your little groove of 'this is religious' and 'this is true' and _none of it is true_. _None of it._"
"Don't you 'but Bennu' me." I feel my aggressive approach, not a greeting but a threat, and shudder inwardly at any violence I would show the small man who blinks so incessantly innocently at me, but my wings arc up dangerously and I stab at the stone on either side of us to show what a sound my beak can make, what it can do to irritating flesh. "Don't you even _start_." Several more deliberate stabs, but even though the motion is deliberate, I do not feel that I am thinking about it beforehand.
"Not another _word_ out of you about this Godbedamned Bennu thing. It's _not real_."
"But Bennu." Joss sighs so quietly that I shake breezily in front of him, momentarily unable to continue my driven threat unless he irks me a bit more forcefully. "There is God in you. You are not a 'god', so you tell me so many times. I said that I understand you. Do you not believe me?"
"NO! I do _not_ believe you." My screeching echoes like fingernail scratchings off the Temple walls, and I stomp with lightweight claws as if to show I've got sharp bits there, too. I feel like I'm furious yet watching myself from across the room. Felt like this a lot, lately, in fact. Who the Hell cares. "THERE IS NOTHING TO BELIEVE. How long does it take you to fucking _get_ this?"
As long as the acoustics are good, as long as I've got all this energy with no place for it to go, might as well stay on the roll I'm on. Joss holds an arm up in front of him, not blatantly shielding himself, but suggesting a slight turn of his body away from my callous onslaught.
"There's not even a _God_, okay?! It's not even about me being just someone disguised as your Earth-her-Mother's make-believe Deity. It's about the fact that there _is nothing else_. I don't think you _get_ it, Joss. There is no divinity in me, whether I can see it or not it's not _there_. It's _all_ a lie. Not just some of it, all of it. And I've had it with this place. Not even any more of the same, not anything but you and the village and all built up to bring me here for some dragon to snack on, and sure it's Mina and she's fine and all, but what about me? What am I _for_ now? Your 'beliefs', they're _nothing_. And maybe if you'd wake up and realize that then you'd be able to make something out of yourself. But it's not just this Bennu-speaking thing that's the issue here. You seem to think I'm some kind of spark of some _God_ of the _Sky_ or something whether I know it or not... Oh, fuck it, Joss. Why do I even bother."
Joss opens his narrow-jawed mouth, but nothing comes out before I begin to turn away. I focus on the corridors to the exit. Jossu'wa claps his little jaws once, and extends an anteater-style tongue in an adjusting flicker before swallowing and seeming to begin to try again. My shrugging wings and back are to him and receding up the corridor before he voices anything. I've shut the little bastard up.
It was probably a hateful, cruel thing to do, but Joss is too placid for his own damn good. Besides, he won't have to worry about reading significance into my every wing-flicker anymore. I've made up my mind. Next time this bedamned potion wears off, I'm not coming back. I'm the same to him, to all of them, here as gone. They had a picture of this gangly stork-thing in their minds eons before I ever showed up. This is all a joke and I'm a fool to have played along for as much as I did.
The water reflects in some places, where the pebbles at the bottom are dark and the spring has attached pools with little swirling. I am certain there are tiny fishes directly below my gaze, but I cannot see them even with my hunting eyes. I do not angle myself to do so, and instead watch my reflection. With the sun at my nape, a flat mirror of Oasis spring water flings back a carnation, salmon, ruby and firelit bird, some patches blending into darker jewel-like tones since the recent changing of my plumage. Where my breast was almost white, it is now creamy and beige-pink. My crest raises and lowers from lack of other activity and I begin laying my head to each side and watching my expression. The bird in the water seems to be waiting and eager for something, but I just feel a madness that I almost felt back in Milwaukee, except that there it was a dead madness and here it's a swirling desire for nothing that seems to exist.
My predatory expression in the water increases in intensity, and I flap my wings to feel the air bunch up under them. I step into the water, breaking up the colors into various sky-hued swirls and raising my gaze to look at the small, but heavily populated Oasis. No people here like the Kiri-ahn, but of course a multitude of frogs and small fishes and probably insects in the plushy grass.
That's what I'll do, I'll just stay here until the potion wears off and then go back to the city.
In a flash, something comes upon me that seems to wrap around and into the desire I have not had a name for. Millie... people. I need something. Of course, Mina brought it up sort of delicately, but I'm probably wanting what any sane man my age would want. The idea settles in until it seems to be all there is. Millie. That must be it. I've been frustrated because I want to go back to her. Of course, it all makes sense now. That's why I've had to ignore so many of the irritating things around me, and why my flight has no direction. To fly to Milwaukee, I must not be here at all.
I gulp in breaths, expecting them to feel refreshing and my heart to feel enlightened, but the nervous yawning takes over again and my muscles feel tight. Oh well. At least I must be onto something. I must just need a mate.
It can't be a one-time thing, either. I'll go mad each time I separate myself from the obvious path again. Maybe if I get lonely for the Bennu's world I can bring her back here with me and...
Of course, that'd be as mad as the whole idea of going back to 'my' Earth's Midwest. Why did I decide to stay here with the armadillo-people in the first place? But the city _must_ have color if there is companionship, real focus, real interaction going on. I just didn't see it before. I can work for it now, make it all fit together. I bring a dripping claw up to the short feathers behind my earhole and scratch, tensely.
Still no relaxation for the Bennu-bird.
I scratch at my chin, then busily run my beak through the lines of flight feathers, unzipping and zipping them, but I don't need to groom and I don't want to stop and eat because I don't want to stop moving.
Finally, I do, just to see what happens. I stand still in the middle of ankle-deep crystal water and force myself to find out just what I'm not doing when I'm compulsively eating or grooming.
I'm not paying any attention the perpetual, whining ache in the area of soft feathers around my fucking birdy private parts, that's what. So I'm hot for something. Great. Probably part of this whole bird mating instinct thing. Not hot for any_one_, I suppose, because Millie's not here and like I told Mina there's no one here for ol' Justin to be hot _for_, right? But I have to admit, once I start standing still, that I'm pretty damned eager to use my private parts for _something_.
The longer I stand there, the less achy and indistinct and the more itchy and specific the sensation gets. Probably came along with the moulting thing. I suppose I ought to go find a Bennu-bird mate, but I'm not really one of them. A potion does not a god-thing make.
As soon as this time around of the potion wears off, I'll bus it back to Milwaukee and do this thing right. No more fleeing from truths and all that rot. I'll get her a ring and the whole deal, spill it to her about what's going on in my head. My nervousness grows, as I stand here distracting myself from my body's sexual details, yet there is nothing to be nervous about. Hell, I bet I even know what to do about the ring. She can pick it out herself. She's that kind of girl.
Anxiety is more uncomfortable to focus on than sex, and Millie's part in all this has nothing else for me to think about until I get back to the bar where I'm sure to find her most any night. I begin to bob my head around at the rocks and pressed grasses at the sides of the spreading small pools off the main source of the spring. Some of the textures look rather inviting.
My body has been going a bit berserk despite my brain, anyway, for weeks, so it practically drags me over to a particularly conveniently-sized rock that has half-alive shaded grasses leaning in a rooted pile over one side of it.
Reminds me of Joss's burlap, the plain color he always wears, in the typical Kiri-ahn disinterest for any richly colored dyes. My body would gladly go at it without my brain, of course, right now, if that were an option, but it doesn't seem to be. Something about me is waiting for whatever turns me on to get me into a little good action for some modicum of relaxation before I can get out of this body altogether. Turns me on... I dunno, I never really thought about it before. I'm sure something about something from home or somewhere ought to turn me on. Not women's breasts, evidently, since those cross my mind with no hopeful twinges from any part of me. Maybe I'm too birdlike for that. I don't know what I ought to picture on a female bird.
I start to scan through all my existent images. Millie with her hand under a pool cue, that does a little something. Her ass, nothing. Cute, though. Reminds me of other asses, Mina's which doesn't even seem to be one since it extends into a tapering tail, Jossu'wa's in its loose covering of that same damn burlap like the grass. His fur is a smoother and more glittering color than the burlap, and you'd think the scaled armor on his back and forehead would keep the sun off, but his kind are into propriety.
I think about the fact that I'm turned on, period, that I've got to get rid of some of this energy or else I'll go madder than ever, and that helps some. My own insistence at the release is as effective as anything else. I think with some smug satisfaction of Joss's bewildered, silent adjustment of his narrow tongue. Served him right. My wings pull up into a balancing shrug and I rub against the plant-blanketed rock, relieved to finally be alone and ridding myself of some of this pent-up frustration. A spasm of intensified reactions from whatever avian sex organs I have surprises me, and I figure I must have been scanning through and landed on something about Millie or some other effective image. I continue scanning through, but mostly I just want it enough that the rock and grasses soon get their token white smear for my efforts. Gah. Sigh. Not much better. But better, some. And soon I'll go home and be done with all this mess.